When we look at Real Salt Lake's roster, something sticks out at us: Unlike years past, we look truly stocked at forward, and for some reason, that has many worried.
This represents a shift in strength for the club, whose depth was typically counted in midfielders during the Jason Kreis era.
This was in part necessitated by the tactical shape he employed; that narrow diamond that worked so well for a few years demanded a lot out of its nominally wide midfielders, and as a result, there were usually seven or eight game-ready midfielders on hand.
As an example, in 2013, Real Salt Lake had Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, Luis Gil, Javier Morales, Khari Stephenson, Sebastian Velasquez, and Yordany Alvarez, all of whom played in at least 20 matches across the season.
In 2015, with a three-man midfield, things played out a bit differently. The midfield was Kyle Beckerman, Luke Mulholland, Javier Morales, Luis Gil, and John Stertzer with at least 20 appearances. Luis Silva does get a shout for 10 appearances in less than a half-season, but he doesn't make this short list.
Now, for a three-man midfield, that's not a bad number of players to have regularly earning minutes, but it lacks some of the veteran nous that made 2013 work. Khari Stephenson was experienced and a reasonable MLS player in 2013 that pushed on players like Luis Gil for minutes; in 2015, that player was John Stertzer — who can be a fine midfielder in his own right, and likely will be very good for this team, but he's played handfuls of games as opposed to the wealth of experience of Stephenson.
This isn't to place blame on the midfield for the way the season went, but merely to try to see the way the team was constructed. It was midfield-focused, and now it's not particularly. In fact, it's now far more focused on forwards than it ever has been in Real Salt Lake's past, and there may be some cause for excitement because of it.
First, let's take a look at the forward group, focusing first on center forwards then moving to wide players.
Yura Movsisyan — A pure goalscorer, the likes of which RSL hasn't seen since the prime of Alvaro Saborio's career, which likely peaked in 2011 or 2012.
Sebastian Jaime — A hard-working forward that lacks the natural goalscoring potential but is still a potent threat.
Devon Sandoval — A role player whose impact is best when he's given the option to play a hold-up game; still, he's not a natural goalscorer, and his best moments come when he's helping build play than finishing it himself.
And the wide players:
Juan "Burrito" Manuel Martinez — An exciting, creative wide forward that has shown extremely promising work in his first months with the team.
Joao Plata — With one really great season under his belt (2014), one in which he struggled (2015), and one in which he was promising (2013), Plata's promise hasn't really been realized, but there's every reason to suspect it will be.
Olmes Garcia — He's fast, runs at players, and will work hard for every minute he's playing. He might not be a natural goalscorer, which earns him sometimes-unfair comparisons, but he's far from the worst bench option available.
Jordan Allen — He's not a true forward when he's playing out wide, but he's still playing one of those positions. He's a balance player in that role, and he adds a lot tactically.
Additionally, Sebastian Jaime can be counted among the wide players in a pinch.
So what we have here is seven forwards, all of whom have at least a year and a half of MLS experience. That's seven players for three positions, and two of those are firmly in the backup camp — that's Garcia and Sandoval — while one is in a more tactical camp and can play in other positions, too. But they're all experienced and could be reliable starters, if steps down from their counterparts.
By bringing in Yura Movsisyan, Real Salt Lake has taken a set of forwards that, a year ago, consisted of Alvaro Saborio alongside, Jaime, Sandoval, Plata, Garcia, and Allen — that's not the most sparkling of setups, but it's still similar.
Two pieces were missing there: a true wide player who could make that position his own, and a natural goalscorer. That's the difference between at 2010 Saborio and a 2015 one — that natural goalscoring aspect simply wasn't there in the same way. He still scored goals, sure, but he wasn't doing it at nearly the clip he started at when joining Real Salt Lake. He's still a respectable forward, but he needs a partner to make it work now — and that's what the team didn't allow for anymore, with a 4-3-3 the chosen way forward. Yura Movsisyan solves for that — he's a natural goalscorer in the prime of his career.
But now, we're in a surprisingly positive position, and there are backups, and there is flexibility. Real Salt Lake doesn't have too many forwards — they just finally have enough, and they have the right quality. There's a lot to get right between now and the end of the season, but having the right tools with which to work makes a world of difference.