Since before the end of last season we have all known that Real Salt Lake needed to take a serious look at the situation at center back and make a move to sure up the defense. Coming into the season there were a lot of questions about the ongoing search for a center back; most of us hoping for a true #1 to come in and fix everything immediately. (snark intended) You’ve read about, and I have written about, the issues the team has had securing such a player. It’s frustrating for everyone involved, including every single person on the operations side at RSL.
Frustrations aside, here we sit. RSL have shocked almost everyone thus far this season with sensational results through the first 11 games. Players have stepped up, specifically down the spine of the formation to help get us there; and even the center back situation is arguably less of a concern than many thought it might be.
Right now we have 4 very capable players clogging up the middle to cut down passing lanes and make critical tackles. When they are on the field together RSL is very hard to break down. That said, we have seen what one injury or suspension could do to this squad. Check out some of the +/- numbers making their way around message boards, twitter, and other articles to see what I mean.
Many have asked, and many will continue to ask, what the current situation surrounding the center back search is, and it got me thinking. Anyone watching the games can see that a pairing of Maund/Glad is the best option right now. When they are paired together are RSL give up less goals giving up only 4 goals together compared to 10 for other pairings. Matt Doyle, MLS Armchair Analyst, put it this way in his recap of the weekend:
So, the question remains: Does RSL need to go out and sign a new center back? The answer is absolutely yes. I would argue that the play of Maund and Glad has forced that question to have a different focus, in that, although we need to sign a center back I don’t know that we need to sign a tier 1, starter, world beater.
Right now RSL seemingly have two options thanks to the play of our best center back pairing.
Option 1: Sign a starter. I think this is what we set out to do before the start of the season, and it may very well be what we are doing now. Go out and bring in someone that is your #1 center back. Thinking back this would be similar to when we first brought in Olave. Doing so would, in most everyone’s opinion, create a rotation between New #1, Maund, and Glad; with Olave moving out of the picture to whatever extent. There are pros and cons to any move we might make, but this one if handled correctly seems to make the most sense. Given the right signing it could prove incredibly valuable to have someone to help continue the development of Maund and Glad while providing more of the consistency off the bench that we all crave. Having Aaron or Justen come off the bench with the right #1 would provide real depth and confidence in the back line that many of us don’t have right now.
The only real concern for me is the handling of the rotation. I always worry when that word comes up. It can be dangerous as the most important thing can be consistency and playing time for a partnership that is so dramatically important to the team's success. I also worry that signing a #1 could be off putting for either Maund or Glad. I think they are better than letting something like that get to them but we have seen in the past where that has changed the landscape drastically (nightmarish Carlos Salcedo situation, anyone?)
Option 2: Sign a new backup. This is an option I have seen mentioned by a few people and I hadn’t really given a lot of credence to it based solely on what has been said by Craig and Co for months, but it’s starting to make a lot more sense. In this scenario the team goes out and gets a player that falls in at 3 on the depth chart at center back. This would be a player that is serviceable and fits well with the team, better than Olave but not a world beater. The point of this approach would be to allow Maund and Glad to continue to play together, develop and grow, while having a very reliable backup for when one of them isn’t available for selection or needs a break.
The concern with this approach is that it has to be a player that is nipping at the heels of the starters. Again, the rotation would come into play because you want that player to see the field and for the starters to get rest when needed. This option, however, would give the majority of the time to Maund and Glad, with the two of them becoming the focus moving forward.
Keep in mind that in either of these scenarios the weaknesses of our defense need to be addressed. This player needs to be cerebral, vocal, strong and smart on the ball, good in transition (distribution in the counter is key) a smart and aggressive tackler, and excellent in the air(please be tall).
It’s a weird situation that we find ourselves in at this point of the year. 4 weeks until the window opens again and RSL have, when our best are playing together, a formidable center back pairing that works. It’s serviceable and has shut down some of the best attackers in the league on occasions. That said, we need to get better in order to keep riding this wave that we are on in league and cup play. Strengthening the spine, especially the center defenders is critical and we’re all waiting to see which direction we go as July 4th gets ever closer.
Which direction do you think the club should go?