Real Salt Lake won their first silverware of the year in Tucson last Saturday. After going down to ten men in the second half, RSL was able to grind out a result. The high pressure play of the Colorado Rapids at times threated RSL, but the Claret-and-Cobalt's attacking corps proved to be the difference.
This preseason was a time for change for RSL. For the first time in what seems like forever, the club is changing with a new direction, new faces, and a new formation. Attempting to improve on past results, RSL has shown a drive to excel and willingness to improve.
Throughout the preseason we saw RSL execute and perform with three noteworthy topics dominating the discussion about the Claret-and-Cobalt in 2015.
2015 marks the end to an era with the departure of Garth Lagerwey. After just a mere two months at the head of the technical side of RSL, Craig Waibel has already envisioned overcoming the "best general manager in the history of this league." The four time MLS Cup winning veteran has shown a drive to succeed so far. Putting together the best squad possible, Waibel managed to get RSL their first piece of silverware since the 2009 MLS Cup.
If Lagerwey found success in getting results, could Waibel finally find success in bringing the Claret-and-Cobalt silverware? If preseason is any indication then yes. RSL is at the precipice of change and the club could go one of two ways. But with Waibel at the helm, there is only one acceptable direction. Waibel has already found success in experimenting with the squad this preseason, and it could prove to be the difference in a stacked Western Conference.
In the recent past, RSL has relied on the same core of players for their success. But with the departure of veterans Robbie Findley, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, and Ned Grabavoy, RSL has had to supplement their existing roster with a variety of players. Sure it is hard to replace the aforementioned members of the RSL family - if at all possible - but the new faces at RSL have shown that they are valuable in their own ways.
RSL added six new faces during the offseason. Each of these players have their own story but have demonstrated their abilities during the Desert Diamond Cup. Each player has added a dimension to the club that has proven successful during the preseason.
Two new players have made their way through the RSL academy system. Phanuel Kavita and Sebastian Saucedo have both previous played in the youth ranks at RSL. Coming into the preseason there was speculation to what roles they might fill, be it with the senior squad or the Real Monarchs, but they have been put to rest. Both Kavita and Saucedo performed admirably during the preseason and have earned a role on the senior squad. They have handled the pace of the professional game well and integrated well with the club.
RSL also added three more players through transfers. Defenders Elías Vásquez and Demar Phillips joined Wilmington "Pecka" Paeckhart to bolster the defense of RSL. These veterans have shown a determination to excel in soccer and were thus brought in by the coaching staff. During the preseason, Phillips and Pecka dealt with injuries but still managed to impress on their debuts for the Claret-and-Cobalt. The 22 year old Vásquez, on the other hand, has shown that he will be a reliable second-string defender and will continue to develop. The experience that these veterans have brought to the club is already paying off with a 4-0-0 preseason record.
The last, but certainly not least, acquisition of the club was through the MLS Superdraft. Throughout the preseason, Salt Lake City native Boyd Okwuonu has shown time and time again the benefits of the college game. Okwuonu has taken a leadership role on the back line communicating and directing plays like he has been with the club for several years. This young defender has demonstrated that the sky is the limit and he will continue to impress.
While no single player can replace the ones that RSL lost, many of the new faces bring something new to the club. Whether it be the flair of Saucedo or the engine of Pecka, these players have already shown to be valuable assets to the Claret-and-Cobalt. With a successful preseason under their belts, the new players at RSL will continue to push RSL to greater success.
The most visible of all the topics surrounding RSL this preseason has been the move towards a new formation. RSL found success in their signature diamond 4-4-2 formation since 2007. But change was on the horizon in 2014 with the acquisition of Sebastian Jaime.
At the Desert Diamond Cup we witnessed the coaching staff experiment with an attacking 4-3-3. With a new formation comes new opportunities. Players are able to bring new dimensions to the club, which in many cases are a recipe for success (see 2013 Portland Timbers under Caleb Porter).
That being said, this preseason has solidified the starting XI for the Claret-and-Cobalt. With Nick Rimando behind a backline of Tony Beltran, Jamison Olave, Chris Schuler, and Demar Phillips, RSL's defense looks to be one of the strongest in the league. Skipper Kyle Beckerman will continue his role marshalling the midfield behind Luis Gil and Javier Morales. The attacking corps will be anchored by Alvaro Saborio with Olmes Garcia and Sebastian Jamie on the wings.
With the senior squad set in stone, RSL will look to find difference makers off the bench. Will names like Luke Molhulland and Devon Sandoval excelling in Tucson, expect the coaches to look to them for reinforcements. RSL's new formation will take some getting use to, but it could be the change RSL needed in their search for silverware.
With this more attack minded formation in use, could we see RSL succeed in 2015? Our bets are on yes. RSL has historically struggled to find the back of the net, but they have been great at creating chances. So, with an additional attacker on the pitch, RSL is even more likely to score a winning goal.
At RSL Soapbox we care about our fans and would like to know what you think. Do you think that there is anything we missed? Are there other take aways from this preseason that we overlooked? What do you think this preseason 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.