The Claret-and-Cobalt is, as fans know, the nickname given to Real Salt Lake in reference to the club’s primary colors, of which one – claret – heavily dominates the 2016 home kit. And on Saturday, RSL revealed the 29 member squad to the media that will wear these kits during the preseason. With plenty of old faces returning and just the right injection of new personnel, there was enough talent to keep the promise of great things in 2016 very much at the forefront of every fans’ mind.
Some of these players won’t make the first team cut, but there is plenty of room in the RSL organization for talent. But for the next two months all of these players will play a crucial role in "the Team is the Star" mantra.
Here are the five big takeaways from Saturday’s media day:
Yura is back
Despite this headline being akin to the beating a dead horse idiom, it cannot be overstated, however, just how important this signing is for the organization. Every member of the squad reiterated his importance.
"We are expecting goals [from Yura]," responded Javier Morales when asked about Movsisyan, "I think it going to be an important move for us, we need somebody up there to score chances and I think Yura is going to be good."
The RSL community can be fractious even at the best of times, but Yura has been the one thing in which the entire fan base has rallied around and it has been awesome. The clinical finisher has had a wild career, from success in Europe to wanting to "return home" to Salt Lake City – a storyline that took the better part of two years to resolve.
Yura hasn’t played with any of RSL’s players since leaving in 2009 and of the list only the core of Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Jamison Olave, and Nick Rimando have shared the emotions on the pitch with Movsisyan to a large extent. This camp could be the chance for the 28-year-old fan favorite to show he’s got another MLS Cup run left in him.
Along the same lines, there are four newcomers to the squad – not including Movsisyan – and half of them have already spent time developing in the RSL organization. The Casa Grande product Danilo Acosta opted to stay in the franchise after signing the latest Homegrown contract. Emery Welshman, formerly of Toronto FC, is the other face that spent last year growing with the Real Monarchs. Finally getting the senior call-up, these young players will rely on the mentorship of club veterans in order to earn their first cap for the first-team.
Omar Holness, part of the Generation Adidas class, will also be looking to grow into a professional after spending his last three years with the North Carolina Tar Heels. On the other hand, Nigerian International and UEFA Champions League veteran Sunny Obayan should be providing some mentoring of his own.
Come back fit, come back hungry
In the words of Beltran: "The guys who are still here from last year are extremely motivated. Everybody’s come back fit, everybody’s come back hungry."
After their two and a half month long brewing session, as Beltran put it, the squad seemed more prepared than in any time in recent memory for the start of the 2016 campaign. For a season "that just wasn’t good enough," 2015 provided that kindling to start a blaze in many a RSL player’s heart.
"I have this hunger every year I start the preseason, I want to be champion." Juan Manuel Martinez emphasized.
With many of the returning players embracing this new found hunger, RSL has a real chance of fulfilling the skipper’s prediction of winning it all – MLS Cup, the Supporter’s Shield, the U.S. Open Cup, CONCACAF Champions League, and Copa America – well maybe not so much the last one.
Trolling the online forms with digital pitchforks in hand, angry RSL fans have been making their presence known. Anxiously awaiting the chance to expel despondent arguments on social media platforms about the lackluster team performance of 2015. And sure enough, when the opportunity arose, their words were there to be read.
The past year hasn’t featured any of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s trademarked success, leading to a torrent of criticism from folks. Are there some on- and off-field problems between the players and manager? Does the new playing system employ players out of position? Some combination of the two or others not mentioned?
However the players have either not noticed this or pay no heed.
"I was telling the rookies about it this morning," Beltran recounted, "just how welcoming this fan base is and just how into it they are. You know, that fact is that, even though we didn’t have the best of years last year the stadium was pretty much full every game and you cannot ask for more than that."
Beckerman also echoed the sentiment saying, "The fans here have been loyal, especially [when you think] it could have been a disaster here in the beginning of Real Salt Lake. You could’ve seen a lot of fans never come back but they didn’t. They stayed with us and stayed loyal."
Whatever the reason for last year’s troubles, RSL players are once again giving props to the "best fans in MLS."
Eye of los Tigres
At the forefront of everyone’s mind that follows RSL is the CONCACAF Champions League matchup with Liga MX’s Los Tigres in less than a month.
When asked about preparation for this clinch match Morales said, "We need three weeks. It is going to be a crucial game for us, I think we have to be ready in three weeks."
Since the fabled CONCACAF run in 2011, things haven’t always gone as planned for the Claret-and-Cobalt. A several year string of either missing out on the continental tournament or getting ousted early, RSL has a chip on its shoulder that the organization would love to rid itself of.
In their return to the quarter-finals, RSL will be looking to show that they are ready to not only earn the continent’s highest honor, but also that they are ready to be a Western Conference contender once again. But just like in the song by Survivor, RSL cannot "lose grip on the dreams of the past" and must take lessons learned from previous CONCACAF appearances and apply them in order to find success.