With that in mind, we've picked out three things we'll be watching as we look to kickstart our 2016 season.
3. The trialist
Let's make an assumption here: Real Salt Lake is trying to sign a center back, and they have been for — well — months. They've had some higher-profile opportunities drop from availability, and they're moving further down their list. As a result, they're looking at players they're not as certain about, and that's created a need to bring them in on trial, rather than sign them outright.
If we do see a trialist out there, we should be watching him closely. What does he bring that other players don't? Does he fit the need for a cerebral center back? How's his communication visible in how he plays?
2. Newcomers fitting in
We have a few newcomers that we should be keeping tabs on, and if they look to be meshing well on the field and not just in training, it could be a good boost ahead of our match against Tigres in CCL.
Of course, it's not like we're completely filled to the brim with new players — this isn't going to be a new-look RSL. Yura Movsisyan and Stephen "Sunny" Sunday Obayan are not exactly small pieces (and Movsisyan is easily the bigger of the two), but it's more in the back of the roster that things are being filled in. With additions like Omar Holness, Chris Wingert, Emery Welshman, and Danilo Acosta, we're not setting out to immediately rebuild our squad. Instead, we're setting down a marker as we look to improve our depth.
So how does that translate into something to watch? When you see these new players (of any sort, really), pay attention to how they're engaging with their teammates, and pay attention to the little passes and innocuous moments. If Movsisyan's not scoring goals, look to see how he's helping to create opportunities for those around him. If Sunny's making some poor tackles, look to see how he and Kyle Beckerman form a midfield partnership. Those sorts of things will make the difference.
1. Winning the ball
As I watch tomorrow, one thing that I'll be paying attention to is where Real Salt Lake wins possession — and where they're committing to do so. If they're committing high up the pitch, will that translate to actually winning the ball, or will they find themselves chasing the game? If they're committing further back, are they allowing Portland Timbers to retain possession for too long a period?
One thing Jeff Cassar and Craig Waibel have talked about is this very thing. It's an emphasis for the team right now, and it's easy to see why — giving away possession cheaply cost us points frequently last year, and success in 2016 depends on solving that problem.
Want to stream Real Salt Lake vs. Portland tomorrow? We'll have all the details before the match tomorrow morning, and we'll have post-match analysis throughout the day.