The match at FC Tucson provided a lot of insight into the club's potential in 2015. We got a bigger taste of the new formation and witnessed even more new faces. We saw veterans strive to achieve maximum form and youngsters proving their worth to the club. Despite all of this, one thing really stuck out as a building block of this season of change.
For years we have heard of the value of the academy system and the versatility it brings to the youth players. In the modern game, the ability to slot in at numerous positions is becoming a necessity when Major League Soccer clubs - or any club for that matter - delve into improving their squads. A jack of all trades is not only desirable but a specialist position within itself.
The world of soccer is full of versatile players, the kind of players that coaches desire above all else. Why buy a center back when you have a defensive midfielder that is more than capable playing on the backline? Why buy a winger when you have forwards who can play near the end-lines when required? Similarly, why develop a player that is great in only one position when you have one that can play many? Not only is this appealing, it also enables coaches to make in-match changes to personnel and the formation without wasting substitutes.
Contrary to some beliefs, it is not squad fillers that carry the versatile title, World class players such as Javi Martinez, Philipp Lahm, and Thomas Muller play — well in many cases — and excel in a number of positions. While not as world class as the aforementioned players, the RSL system is producing malleable players that could be indispensable for their versatility. The ability to fill gabs in the squad and move around squad members has become even more important since the club's transition to a new formation.
Let's take, for instance, Jordan Allen. He has been a talented youngster who burst onto the professional scene with the RSL academy. The 2012 U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy Player of the Year played a variety of roles as a youth leading to a widely varied skill set. RSL technical director Craig Waibel has already touted the versatility of this second year player: "Allen is a young versatile player, capable of playing a variety of positions," Waibel said in an earlier interview with RSL Soapbox.
We have already been witness to this as he has played both winger and fullback positions this preseason. The fact that he has a great engine has lead him to playing positions in the defense, midfield, and offense during his short career. No matter the position he slots into he has been reliable. His offensive play has been a revelation for the Claret-and-Cobalt, even earning a penalty during the match against FC Tucson.
That follows nicely onto Sebastian Saucedo who also had flashes of brilliance during the FC Tucson match. Also an academy product, Saucedo played nicely near the touchline. Deployed as a winger, he moved the ball well for RSL. Off the back of a successful 2014 Generation Adidas Cup, earning both the Golden Ball - Most Valuable Player - and the Golden Boot - Leading Tournament Scorer, he has appeared as an attacking threat both in the midfield as well as the newly adopted striker role. This preseason he has appeared on both flanks ever increasing his already high professional trajectory.
The 2015 season is nearly upon us, but instead of fixating on the here and now, why not cast your eyes into what might be in the future. Real Salt Lake has been without question one of the most successful clubs in MLS for the last half decade. With the most change we have seen in an offseason in a while, RSL looks destined to continue on a path of success due in no small part to the versatility of the team.
This season we will likely witness a number of changes that will affect the club. Veterans Luis Gil and Javier Morales will now fill new roles at the club. Sebastian Jaime will be used in a formation that owner Dell Loy Hansen envisioned him playing. With all these changes RSL will also deal with growing pains, but the versatility of the youth will push player performance. Not only will RSL never be without a player that can play a single position, but RSL will have youngsters pushing the veterans to perform.
There will be a balancing act for the coaching staff to enforce this year. Players will be encouraged to play to their strengths, but this shouldn't detract from their goal of fostering versatile players. Even at the national level we see versatile players like Brek Shea transitioning to a new position.
Versatility is a bonus that RSL has demonstrated against FC Tucson - and the entire preseason for that matter. As the coaching staff looks for success in the coming campaign, expect versatility to be priority for the club.
Do you think that there is anything we missed? Are there other take aways from this match that we overlooked? What do you think this match foretells about the future of Real Salt Lake? Are preseason matches a good evaluation point for the MLS regular season? Share your opinions in the comments section below.