As we look toward 2015, plenty of players stand out as needing to have a good season. The starters — the likes of Beckerman, Morales, Rimando, Schuler, and so on — are obviously key among them. But when we look toward the bench, especially in the midfield, we see a lack of prolonged experience at Real Salt Lake.
John Stertzer is in his third season at the club, and he's still getting his feet under him. Despite that, he could be one of Real Salt Lake's key figures in 2015 — not because he's proven it before, but because he's shown increasingly positive signs of being capable.
Most players don't last a third season at an MLS club having missed most of the first two — especially not without showing positive signs. And while there's absolutely some bad luck involved with Stertzer's injury absences, that doesn't make the situation any less worth considering. And let's be clear here: I'm not advocating Stertzer should be dropped like a metaphorical hot potato. Or a literal one.
After all, when Stertzer played last year, he looked more than good. His performances were positive, his movement was exciting, and he showed good connection and understanding defensively. He was the consummate two-way midfielder that defines our attacking system. As we fast-forward into 2015, we can see where Stertzer's contributions will become even more important — and why it'll be even more vital that he stays fit.
If we do play with three midfielders, as we have in preseason so far, we're reasonably comfortable with our lot. Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Luke Mulholland, and Luis Gil are all reasonably established. We're left with two players acting more as backups than as starters: Pecka and Stertzer. This is largely because we don't know how the battle for minutes in the midfield will shake out — four players for three positions as starters.
Stertzer's biggest opportunity this season isn't to break into a starting role. It's a lofty goal, and it's one he should aim toward. But realistically, he'll want to focus instead on becoming a reliable backup. He's shown already that he's not far off that, but that was his leg was broken in a friendly. He should focus on becoming an off-the-bench option when things aren't going perfectly, and when something needs to change. He should work toward becoming the first name coaches think of when they need a backup anywhere in the midfield. With that sort of focus, other opportunities will emerge.
In 2015, John Stertzer's success should be rooted in continuity and development. After all — he's only a third-year professional, and with some luck, it'll be only the first segment of a long career.