Any team that's punching above their small-market weight knows that they have to make intelligent signings, and they have to get the best out of players that others didn't value.
We're not counting players acquired through normal means: No expansion draft (that means you, Andy Williams, but we love you all the same), no MLS SuperDraft (sorry, Tony Beltran and Chris Schuler), and no player-for-player trades (otherwise the list would read Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and three other guys, none of which are Freddy Adu), and no allocation drafts for players coming back from Europe (sorry, Nat Borchers.)
That means we're left with players for whom we've traded things like allocation money or draft picks, and with players for whom we've given up cold hard cash (or signed on free transfers.)
We've probably missed some of your favorite signings, so feel free to yell at us in the comments. In fact, we implore you.
5. Luis Gil
Gil's acquisition almost skirts our rules — he technically came through a draft, but it was one of those MLS-style "we've got to have a draft to follow our own rules, but we don't actually want one" drafts. Gil came and was heralded as the next great American player. That excitement has faded substantially, but Gil's play has improved day over day, week over week. Is he the next best thing? Maybe not, but that doesn't make him any less exciting to watch as he grows into a very component, competitive veteran.
4. Jamison Olave
A trade so nice it happened twice: Arriving from Colombian giants Deportivo Cali, Olave quickly entered himself into RSL lore as the guy who couldn't not get sent off. He adjusted that later on and scored one of the greatest Real Salt Lake goals of all time. Then, after leaving for New York Red Bulls and spending two years there, he was brought back to Salt Lake City at the end of last year.
3. Alvaro Saborio
The Costa Rican goalscoring wonder Alvaro Saborio is Real Salt Lake's all-time goalscoring champion by a significant margin, and he's scored some big goals in big games. Nothing quite to the level of Olave, but it's his regular season consistency that pushes him to this position. Arriving from Swiss side FC Sion, Saborio has been one of RSL's biggest on-the-field influences, shaping everything from the way the team plays to the makeup and style of the forwards around him.
2. Javier Morales
Javier Morales, more than any signing since Jason Kreis, has defined Real Salt Lake on the field and off. His technical ability is immense, and his ability to help unite a locker room with so many strong personalities is perhaps more so. His influence isn't just in the midfield diamond and the attacking role — it's in how that attacking midfield role is played. When he had his leg broken in 2011, it was heartbreaking, but he came back even better than before. That's just the sort of player and person Javier Morales is, and his ability to not seep into mediocrity speaks very well of him.
1. Jason Kreis
Imagine Real Salt Lake without Jason Kreis. You can't, can you? And not just without him now, even though he's obviously gone. But imagine RSL without him from the very beginning. He was more than just the first signing — he was the first successful coach (and only the second at the club) and the man who revolutionized the team. We might be a little bitter about Kreis now, but that ignores the immense and demonstrable impact that Kreis had at Real Salt Lake — and who knows, without him, maybe we wouldn't even have a team. Maybe we'd be withering away in St. Louis.