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Questions loom for RSL after abrupt playoff exit

An early end to the season has us looking to a few potential changes we could see this off-season.

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

For the second time in three years, RSL crashed out of the playoffs at the hands of the LA Galaxy in the StubHub Center after a disappointing 3-1 loss in the first-round knockout game.

Now that the season is officially over, there are a few big questions that are immediately on everyone’s mind as the offseason — for the second year in a row — begins in October.

What does the future hold for Jeff Cassar?

Let’s start with the obvious one. As Cassar ends his third season in charge, he sits on a 38-37-30 record in all MLS play — including a 0-2-1 playoff record, of which all three games happen to have been against the LA Galaxy.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that he’s been on the hot seat for quite a while now, with every loss and draw bringing more scrutiny from the section of the fanbase who want to see a coaching change. After an abysmal 2015, and a slightly-better-but-less-than-stellar 2016 season, the RSL front office has a tough decision ahead of them.

Between his bizarre substitution patterns and starting lineups — especially in big games — and the apparent unraveling of the team over the last two months of the season, there are plenty of talking points to take into consideration.

Let’s be clear, though. Nobody wanted to see Cassar fail. Nobody wanted to see RSL struggle like they have for the past few years. But while many fans have already made their opinions clear on the matter and with Cassar’s contract up this year, I don’t think anyone will be surprised if we see a coaching change ahead of the 2017 season.

Have we seen the last of Javier Morales?

I think we all felt a little twinge of heartbreak as we watched Javi tear up following the final whistle in Los Angeles. It seems the majority of RSL fans were thinking the same thing in that moment: did we just watch Javier play the last game of his career?

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

Morales, who turns 37 in January, finished the 2016 season with four goals and four assists — shy of his eight goals and 12 assists he had the previous year when he finished as the team’s leading scorer. He signed a multi-year contract extension following the 2015 season, citing that he wanted to finish his career in Salt Lake and had no intention of going anywhere else.

Ever the ageless wonder, he hasn’t led anyone to believe that he would be retiring after this season, even insisting that his age isn’t slowing him down — but it’s a question that certainly has crossed our minds.

If there’s any chance that this was the Maestro’s last season as a player, seeing 68 minutes in a 3-1 playoff loss encompassed by an eight-game winless streak is hardly the honorable exit he deserves.

I think we’d all be happy to see him return for at least another year.

What roster moves will we see this offseason?

There are plenty of opportunities for personnel changes this offseason between potential retirements, trades, and waivers. One key event in the forefront of our mind will be the Expansion Draft as Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC enter the league next season.

The rules are a bit different this time around — each new team can only select five players, and each existing team can only lose a maximum of one player. So the chances of RSL losing a key player are slimmer than in years past, but it’s still not a guarantee.

RSL is allowed to protect 11 players in addition to their Generation Adidas and Homegrown players, which are automatically protected and include Omar Holness (Generation Adidas), Justen Glad, Jordan Allen, Phanuel Kavita, Danilo Acosta, and Sebastian Saucedo.

That still leaves a lot of ground to cover in only 11 players — make a wrong move and we could see an important player being shipped off to an expansion side. The expansion draft protected lists will be released on December 12th, and the draft itself is scheduled for December 13th.

As far as acquisitions, general manager Craig Waibel recently returned from a 10-day scouting trip to Europe and discussed his options and intentions on the most recent installment of ESPN700’s OnFrame.

Clearly the RSL staff is looking forward to next year and how they can strengthen weak spots.

This is really only the tip of the iceberg as far as what we can expect to resolve during this long offseason, as there will be plenty more specific issues that will need to be handled as well.

At this point, just barely into RSL’s four-month-long break, all we can do is sit back and wait.