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The 2016 RSL roster situation: What does RSL need before season's start?

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RSL's roster is finally beginning to take shape but what other options are available for the club? What are the remaining pieces RSL needs before the new season? We break it down.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

With the Major League Soccer Combine in full swing and the 2016 SuperDraft just around the corner, we thought we would give you a little run down on the Real Salt Lake roster.

The first thing to know is the league’s roster rules:

Major League Soccer rosters are made up of 28 spots. The first 18 are required to be filled and make up the senior roster. Slots 19 and 20 round off the senior squad but unlike the aforementioned spots are not required to be filled.

Spots 21 through 28 makeup the supplemental roster. The players that occupy these slots are usually considered young professionals or Homegrown players (HG) and their salaries do not count against the club’s salary cap. In addition, it is required for Generation Adidas (GA) players to fill these slots.

Here is where the water gets a bit murky. Each club is given eight slots for international players (INT’L) on their senior roster. The limit on the number of international roster slots makes each spot a valuable, tradable commodity for clubs to utilize through player acquisition. In the past RSL permanently traded away two of their eight slots to the Colorado Rapids and Chivas USA. MLS, however, has declined to share if the slot traded to Chivas had returned to RSL after the club folded in 2014. For this article let’s assume it has since Craig Waibel has indicated the Claret-and-Cobalt is on the verge of adding three players – all of whom would presumably occupy an international roster slot – and since the club already has four slots filled they must have seven available for use.

The MLS roster rules also allow for three Designated Players (DP) whose salary is above the maximum $436,250 cap hit. Like the international slots, these designations seem to be fluid as allocation money (targeted or general) are used to buy down the player’s budget charge. So in other words, three players make salary off the books and have only a limited impact on the salary cap, essentially.

So, according to the latest updated RSL roster, the Claret-and-Cobalt have 24 out of 28 roster spots filled. The breakdown is as follows:

GK (3): Jeff Attinella, Nick Rimando, Lalo Fernandez (HG)

DEF (9): Jordan Allen (HG), Tony Beltran, Justen Glad (HG), Phanuel Kavita (HG), Abdoulie Mansally, Aaron Maund, Boyd Okwuonu, Jamison Olave, Demar Phillips (INT'L)

MID (7): Danilo Acosta (HG), Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Luke Mulholland, Fito Ovalle (HG), Sebastian Saucedo (HG), John Stertzer

FWD (5): Olmes Garcia, Sebastian Jaime (DP, INT'L), Juan Manuel Martinez (DP, INT'L), Joao Plata (DP, INT'L), Devon Sandoval

MLS: LA Galaxy at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

As MLS is not known for its transparency, a reasonable breakdown of the roster would mean that Beckerman, Beltran, Garcia, Jaime, Martinez, Morales, Mulholland, Olave, Phillips, Plata, and Rimando are definitely members of the senior squad – comprising slots 1-11. The players definitely on the supplemental roster are all of the HG players which includes Acosta, Allen, Fernandez, Glad, Kavita, Ovalle, and Saucedo – comprising slots 21-27.

(Here comes some more pea soup)

Players that would fill the void between senior and supplemental roster are Attinella, Mansally, Maund, Okwuonu, Sandoval, and Stertzer – we will call these player the verge players. The verge players are in a category of their own since they occupy a senior roster slot while they only make the league minimum of $60,000, but these players could be placed in the supplemental roster slots if necessary. Therefore these verge players will comprise senior roster slots 12-17.

Note: While our count thus far implies that RSL is technically one short of the required 18 man senior roster, a supplemental player making the league minimum could drop into the senior roster to meet the requirement.

By our count that means RSL currently have 3 senior roster slots and a single supplemental roster spot available to fill. What does that mean for RSL? Well, it brings us to the second part of this article.

RSL’s biggest needs before the 2016 begins:

1. Starting quality Center-back

Fact, RSL lost league heavy-weight No. 9 Alvaro Saborio. Fact, RSL switched to a predominately 4-3-3 formation. But despite that, RSL also lost key defensive contributors in Elias Vasquez and Chris Schuler. It is true that Vasquez did no way live up to his potential, his loss coupled with the loss of Schuler is a real blow to RSL. While it is possible that Schuler may yet make his return to the Claret-and-Cobalt, his injuries and Olave’s aging legs makes it necessary that RSL has at least one rock steady center-back on the squad.

So despite some pundits calling for more offensive depth, RSL needs to address the lack of center backs with one of its senior roster slots. A five strikers to an abysmal three and a half (since Justen Glad can also play half-back and center defensive mid) center-backs ratio could simply mean an end to RSL’s post-season hopes before they begin. RSL looks primed to start scoring goals next year, what they do not want to do is concede more goals.

MLS: Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

2. Generation Adidas talent

To round off the 2016 supplemental roster, RSL needs to snatch a GA player from the SuperDraft. For this acquisition RSL should really focus on getting either a defender or midfielder. And with the number five pick in hand and the official 2016 GA Class announced let’s go over some of the options:

Initially, we can get rid of the possibility of Andrew Tarbell not only would teams in front of RSL benefit more from a talented goalkeeper, but RSL is sitting pretty with its net-minder corps. Sorry, Kavita it doesn’t appear you and your fellow Clemson Tiger will be teaming up on the Wasatch Front.

Omar Holness is next on the list. This sophomore Tar Heel out of Jamaica seems like a solid player in the midfield, but playing primarily as a deeper midfielder RSL will likely pick from other options. With Stertzer as Beckerman’s primary backup in 2016 and Ovalle and Acosta waiting for their turns respectfully, RSL does not need another No. 6 on the roster.

Thirdly there is Fabian Herbers.  This talented winger hails from Germany with academy experience both from his homeland and the Netherlands.  At 6 feet tall, he is a menacing opponent.  He scored 15 goals and added 17 assists in this past, junior season.  His offensive exploits also earned him the honor of MAC Hermann Trophy finalist.  Despite Herbers being a scoring threat, RSL is not lacking skill on the wings with both Plata and Martinez.  If Herbers were to make the transition to a No. 9 he might be another story, but until then there are other GA candidates to choose from.

Ok, so here comes the big name: Joshua Yaro. Without a doubt the price of this SuperDraft, the domineering college center-back will be hard to nab even with the number five selection. Barring an RSL trade with the Chicago Fire, Yaro will almost certainly be unavailable for selection the moment RSL gets on the clock.

And so there were three. Julian Buescher, Jack Harrison, and Richie Laryea are all attack-minded midfielders. Both Buescher and Harrison scored eight goals and notched 11 assists last year, while Laryea performed the near inverse finding the back of the net 11 times and coming up with seven assists. All of these player fill a niche that was vacated with the departure of Luis Gil and Luis Silva.

Buescher, however, seems to be a bit more refined and more gifted on the ball then his two counterparts. In more of a traditional No.10 role, Buescher has just the right amount of spark to sit behind Morales on the depth chart. If he requires even more incentive there is always the chance that Sebastian Saucedo and even Monarch's Lucas Baldin will push Buescher to perform ever so slightly better.

Preussen Muenster v Borussia Moenchengladbach - Friendly Match
Julian Buescher (R) protecting the ball from an opponent.
Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images

Therefore, with the number five pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft let’s pencil in Julian Buescher as RSL’s selection to round out the supplemental roster – because you never know what will happen in the MLS Combine.

3. Depth at the No. 8 role

Continuing the midfield revamp, the Claret-and-Cobalt need to add another box-to-box midfielder to the squad. While Mulholland is by far the best fit for the No. 8 role he currently is the lone player on the squad to fit that mold. The Claret-and-Cobalt are in desperate need of a No. 8 "Super Sub," to come off the bench sometime in the second half and completely alter the flow of the match – someone like Jonny Steele in recent memory.

With Will Johnson returning to his hometown and Ned Grabavoy reportedly joining the Portland Timbers, the MLS market seems rather lacking in this department. RSL should then hope that one of the South American prospects is a No. 8 that would fill a senior roster spot.

MLS: Western Conference Championship-Real Salt Lake at Portland Timbers Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Going back to Julian Buescher, he could also fill this role nicely after a terrific performance at the first day of the MLS Combine - hell, he could give Luke a run for his money.  So in essence, the GA player could filled multiple roles at RSL, something of a Swiss army knife role which is becoming more and more common with young players on the squad.

If that doesn’t pan out, however, RSL can always dip into the well that is the Casa Grande Academy or the Real Monarchs to fill this need. With no real front runners in this mold, the RSL coaching staff will have its hands full identifying potential candidates. Still, this in itself is not a bad solution as the system that feeds RSL is consistently one of the best in the nation, not to mention the league.

4. The 20th senior roster slot . . .

With the last senior roster spot the Claret-and-Cobalt have some wiggle room.  While they might benefit from having depth on the wings they could also use it to snag a pretty sweet No. 9.  With the money vacated by the departures of Gil, Silva and Vasquez - an estimated $481,384.00 - the club has a fair amount of cap space to work with in addition to more allocation money.  Buying down other player's contracts will open up more space for any numbers of signings.  The flexibility here allows RSL to either start the season off with a perceived piece or a piece that is definitely needed during the summer transfer window.

In other words, it would be beneficial for RSL to save this last piece of the puzzle until the season dictates what the club needs rather than trying to guess.  Don't misconstrue this sentiment, but while depth in the wide-attack might be nice, a final roster slot might be just what the doctor ordered mid-season.

– – –

So there you have it, the Claret-and-Cobalt's greatest perceived needs before the 2016 season kicks off.  A center-back, a box-to-box midfielder, and a flexibility signing to round off the senior roster in addition to a Generation Adidas signing to cap the supplemental roster.  With these pieces in hand, RSL might just be able to restart their post-season appearance streak.

Tell us what you think. What are some of the positions RSL needs to address before the start of the 2016 season? How do you think the roster is coming together? Is there anything we missed? Let us know in the comments below.