When Jason Kreis left Real Salt Lake for the blue side of New York in 2013, RSL brass looked internally to fill the space left by offering Jeff Cassar a three-year contract.
Some wondered how far into that contract Cassar would get, given this was his first job in the big chair but Real Salt Lake kept their faith in him and let him see the entire contract out before offering him a one year plus maybe more contact to see out the work he had done in those 3 transitional years.
The general consensus is that the squad has now arrived at that point where have a new identity, a new style of play and a new core group that's going to take those things and turn them into success. So what is this new identity, and why will it make things very different this year?
Long gone is the famous RSL Diamond, compact in the midfield and comfortable in possession. Without Ned Grabavoy connecting the dots, Luis Gil covering every inch of the field and Javier Morales making those killer final balls a shift in tactics had to come. Over the last three games we've seen RSL play a very high line and double up on coverage when not in possession to try force a turnover. It looks to me like Salt Lake don't want to defend (or certainly don't want to leave the lions share of the work to the dynamic duo of Aaron Maund and Justen Glad) too much and want to turn the ball over in midfield and launch our 4 strong attacking corps into a stinging counter.
With a 4-2-3-1 formation you can play a lot of ways, but look for Kyle Beckerman and one of Sunny or Luke Mulholland to be constantly pressuring opponents with the ball, forcing them into errors and balls being launched forward. When RSL released the amazing "Beyond a MLS Superdraft" video they spoke of players fitting into a system, and Reagan Dunk is one of those players. He is very comfortable going forward and looks for that risky pass to unlock the defence and release the counter attack, and I can see him developing into a key part of this style. Albert Rusnak is another player brought in to fit this style as he doesn't just have the skills to make the plays but finish them too. Look for Yura Movsisyan to hold the long balls sent that way then try bring in the 3 other attackers in (which was his message at the end of the Mic'd Up video) to finish off the move.
Everybody has a price
If you discount Rusnak, Real Salt Lake haven't really had to throw the cash around at this point to build a squad. Taking Burrito Martinez ($1,458,667), Javier Morales ($590,000) and Jamison Olave ($215,000) off the budget as well as a number of other fringe players means Salt Lake likely have some space in the cap to move things around (even if you take into consideration new contracts offered to existing players or annual pay rises).
The Rusnak signing also shows that Salt Lake are not afraid of spending if they identify the right players, something which has frustrated the fan base as our peers continue to add big pieces to the squad. We are a squad with a lot of potential in the ranks but after a while potential has to be paired with ability. Look for Jeff Cassar to review the state of play in mid season and try and make a big move if things aren't going his way. Waibel put the gauntlet down this season by offering only a 1 year extension and he must be aware that he needs to produce this season. Speaking of which...
Enter 'The Kingslayer'
I won't pretend to be totally impartial here. I'm a big fan of Mike Petke and in angrier moments I may have called for such a man to be given the keys to the RioT. This is the most dramatic signing for the RSL in the very literal sense of the word.
Cassar earned himself another year, just, but you have a guy in mind who has proven to be a success at this level. You don't want him to be snapped up by another team but you can't just ask him to stay unemployed in case you need him later.
What's the solution? You make him the coach of your developmental team so he's part of your organisation and the man in waiting should you need him. Now this is all speculation and interpretation of the facts but it's the common consensus from many fans and analysts alike so it's not like this is a huge leap. If Cassar doesn't turn the talent and potential into the franchise team that RSL wants to be, I'd be shocked if we didn't end 2017 led by Petke.
I won't call this 2.0 because I regard the Beckerman/Mulholland/Plata/Burrito/Yura Core 2.0. So this is 2.5 for me. Beckerman/Sunny/Plata/Rusnak/Yura and if he can take the next step, Allen. British TV Pundit and Tan Enthusiast Alan "You can't win anything with kids" Hansen rightly predicted the demise of Manchester United after they relied on long-forgotten youth players such as David Beckham, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes (no idea what happened to them).
All jokes aside, RSL looks set to give youth a chance all over the field. Maund and Glad are widely predicted to be the starting defensive duo, Allen seems to have the lock on the wide right position and the Cassar has publicly gone on record to say that Rusnak is somebody they are looking to build everything around. Whether it works or not remains to be seen, but Salt Lake will be looking to line up with more young players on the field than before.