With all the fervor around Albert Rusnak and then the failed chase of Landon Donovan, the signing of Luis Silva to a multi-year deal has flown under the radar.
Of course, that’s heightened by thoughts of that potentially big deal that saw Silva join eventual Apertura champions Tigres — that move didn’t end with Silva earning frequent minutes, or even many minutes at all.
Reasonably, that’s sparked a bit of uncertainty among Real Salt Lake supporters. Most experiences with Luis Silva in Salt Lake surrounded him joining midseason and not really playing too many matches — ten, to be exact. He played 24 matches in 2015 in total, and he played with his third club since joining the league in 2012.
By all accounts, Silva was a player with immense ability. That’s evidenced if you browse through his highlights. He scored five goals in his rookie year, playing with Toronto FC. He scored 11 two years later with D.C. United. What’s more, his goals came from a variety of positions — outside the box, inside the box — and with both feet and his head. He was one of the hottest younger players in the league, even if he’d had an off-year in the first half of his 2015 season at D.C. United.
Injuries hampered Silva’s progress, certainly, but an understanding that he was intending to let his MLS contract expire so he could join a Liga MX team was perhaps not the biggest motivating factor toward performances. It was in that context that D.C. United traded Silva to Real Salt Lake in exchange for aging striker Alvaro Saborio. It solved a problem for us, as we looked to retool our attacking group, and it solved a problem for the Beltway side as they looked to utilize players who might stay around a bit longer.
D.C. United found a short-term solution, as did Real Salt Lake. Both had the potential to be longer-term solutions, but RSL general manager Craig Waibel said at the time that the club had their eyes on either keeping Silva around in the long term, or at least ensuring that, if he did return to MLS, that we’d have the option to bring him in, should he be interested.
It just so happened that his stay in Salt Lake City was apparently a pleasant one, and he left on superbly good terms with the club. They made an offer to keep him, allowing Real Salt Lake to retain his MLS rights, and he went on his way to Tigres.
Sure, the last year of his career probably feels a bit like stalling. But for a player whose last two years in MLS saw significant injury setbacks, perhaps it was not playing regularly for a year that will give him the opportunity to return to being a 30-game player in 2017. Is it a sure thing? Hardly.
That’s the thing about the Luis Silva move. It’s not one of those moves you look at and pump your fist in celebration — not that it’s a bad reaction to this, but that’s hardly a typical reaction. It’s also not a move that makes you think that Real Salt Lake has a game-changing player again.
But it is a move that allows for rotation. It’s a move that means if Albert Rusnak, Joao Plata, or Jordan Allen are out, whether that’s for injury, international absences, or simple rotation, there’s a clear path. There’s a player in the side like Luis Silva, who can play across the band of three, or potentially further back or higher up in a pinch.
Luis Silva gives Real Salt Lake depth they simply didn’t have in 2016. When Javier Morales was out, there was no clear replacement. It opens up options the club didn’t have, because there was one legitimate wide backup player: Jordan Allen. Juan Manuel Martinez and Joao Plata were the de facto starters, and there wasn’t really any negotiating that.
He also gives a player like Rusnak, a newcomer to MLS, an opportunity to adjust over time without playing every minute. If Rusnak isn’t performing, Silva is perfectly capable of stepping in. It might be tempting to see that fact as an escape hatch, but it doesn’t have to be that. It may serve as an opportunity to give Rusnak the room and time he needs to adapt, because not every player can do that while playing 90 minutes week-in, week-out.
Luis Silva won’t solve Real Salt Lake’s issues in the midfield, and he won’t instantly force the team to execute in the midfield properly. But his addition brings depth to a team that needs it, and if he can do so while recapturing the brilliance he’s shown in MLS, both he and Real Salt Lake will be the benefactors.