Real Salt Lake has, in some ways, been slightly ahead of the curve in MLS.
They helped spark an era of Argentine dominance in MLS, they produced a coach who many pegged for a national team contract at some point, and they managed to maintain the same starting XI for the better part of a decade.
But one thing the club hasn’t always been at the top of is the “big signing” — we’ve left that to the coasts, but things seem to be shifting in MLS.
Who were our top picks in 2015? The list looks a little different, as you might imagine. You might also be curious as to the criteria from 2015, because it’s basically the same.
We're not counting players acquired through normal means: No expansion draft (that means you, Andy Williams, but we love you all the same), no MLS SuperDraft (sorry, Tony Beltran and Chris Schuler), and no player-for-player trades (otherwise the list would read Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and three other guys, none of which are Freddy Adu), and no allocation drafts for players coming back from Europe (sorry, Nat Borchers.)
When Real Salt Lake brought Yura Movsisyan back into the fold in 2016, they brought in an established player from a big club in Europe, Spartak Moscow. Obviously this is a different kind of signing than most: Movsisyan really started getting going at Real Salt Lake before departing for Europe at the end of the 2009 season — a journey did him a world of good.
He became an excellent second-tier European striker during that time, and although he never cracked the upper echelon, Movsisyan’s arrival at Real Salt Lake is probably our biggest signing to date. Whether he’s displaced by our next entrant depends on both of their performances in the coming season — but certainly, I’m convinced that the two of them will have a positive effect on each other.
While plenty of MLS teams have signed players who started at European clubs in their youth programs — it’s almost a rite of passage, really — Albert Rusnák seems a little different. He did go through the loan process many English clubs subject their players to (usually unsuccessfully), but it was his loan to a Dutch side, SC Cambuur, that saw him finally grasp professional success.
He’s been a rising star in the Eredivisie, and it’s meaningful that other European clubs were at least interested in him. He chose us because we showed legitimate interest in more than just a contract — we did our research, and that stood out.
Will he stay at this point in the list? Time will tell on this one. It is, after all, early days yet, and he hasn’t stepped a foot on our pitch yet. (Even if he tried, getting all the snow out of the way would likely be tough. What a week.)
Juan Manuel Martinez
This is a tough one. Martinez’s signing didn’t end up working out in a long-term sense, but the magnitude of it — and the year of highlights we received in return for his signature — make this a big one.
Martinez plied his trade at wide variety of outfits, but the biggest standouts are Brazilian side Corinthians and Argentine giants Boca Juniors. He was RSL’s player with the most notable pedigree, and it showed during his first moments on the pitch.
If this one had worked out — and I think we all wish it had — Juan Manuel Martinez would have been a Real Salt Lake legend in short order. Instead, we’re left with memories of the best dribbler in the league, a few incredible goals, and one big question: “What if?”
He might be Real Salt Lake’s best-ever player, but it’s important to remember that Morales was one of the players that helped kick off the Argentine revolution in MLS. Of course, his first season wasn’t particular great — he suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery in a reserve game while await his work visa. Remarkable, no?
But Morales was still a big addition, even with the first months of his arrival being ill-timed. He played for some big teams in Argentina (though none of the biggest), he played in the third division in Spain (for UD Vecindario, which no longer exists), and he was later pursued by Spanish first-division side Espanyol. But all of that? That’s nothing compared to the influence Morales and others had on Major League Soccer’s scouting patterns.
Alright, this is almost cheating. The first player as one of the biggest signings? Jason Kreis is the only player with a retired number at Real Salt Lake, he was the first player, and he was the first successful coach of the team. He made the club what it was for a long time.
Of course, Kreis got his start at Dallas Burn, where he played for a long time — that makes his arrival in Salt Lake City even more interesting. He played over 200 matches for Dallas, and he was an excellent goalscoring player. He didn’t play nearly as much at Real Salt Lake, abruptly retiring in his third year at the club to become head coach. He was certainly the most successful coach — and while we hope that isn’t forever the case, it’s clear how much of an impact he made.
Kreis’s legacy may yet not be defined by Real Salt Lake, but after an unsuccessful campaign with New York City FC after leaving RSL, he’s still very much a man made here. At least, you know, to us.
The immovable force at Real Salt Lake that struck fear in attackers: That was Jamison Olave for you, and he didn’t just materialize here. He came in from Colombian giants Deportivo Cali on loan, and we finished a transfer deal with the club before the start of the 2009 season. As the Defender of the Year selection in 2010 and an MLS All-Star in 2010 and 2011, Olave made his mark on the league — in red cards, tackles, and goals.
Now, we get to keep him around after retirement, and he’ll be with the academy, Real Monarchs, and doing some Spanish-language TV work. Keeping him in Salt Lake City underlines how embedded he became in the organization. I strongly suspect that will continue.