There really is an awful lot to be excited about concerning this season, plenty of new faces, plenty of faces missing. Let’s take a quick gander at who I am really excited to see on the pitch this season.
Frankly, we could easily do a paragraph on every member of the team, but to keep it concise this list will largely focus on players where there’s not a large amount of predictability and where I think we will see some surprises. (Sorry Justen Glad, I can’t wait to watch you play, but we already have a solid idea of what your season is going to look like).
5. Chris Schuler
Schuler, unlike everyone else on this list isn’t an offensive player, so don’t expect him to be putting it in the back of the net off a corner more than once or twice this year, if at all. But not scoring goals is no legitimate reason not to be excited about seeing Chris Schuler this season. Here are two reasons why.
First, we really haven’t seen Chris play since 2014 where he played 2,154 minutes. In 2011 and 2013 he hovered around 1,500 minutes both years and in 2012, was just short of the 1,000 minute mark. Last year he pulled 271 minutes in four appearances and the year before that less than 500. Point is, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen Chris Schuler, and granted its pretty cool to see a guy work his way up again after suffering an injury which in a lot of other cases would have been career ending. I’m very skeptical that we are going to see “the best Chris Schuler yet” but I do think that we are guaranteed to see him play a solid role in the back-line, and I personally am really anxious to see what he can do. It’s been a while, and thus it’s easy to forget, but when healthy, Chris was definitely one of the best center-backs in the league, lets hope he can return to that form and stay that way.
Second, depth. Our backline, while much stronger compared to some previous years, is still stretched a little too thin for comfort. I think we are going to see a really cool rotational triad this year between Glad, Maund, and Schuler, with Horst coming in when one of those guys needs a rest. This has potential to become really tricky however, if Schuler finds himself re-injured, and Glad off with some age-variation of the national team, that effectively kills all rotation. A healthy Schuler is going to be absolutely crucial to maintaining a consistent back line. But who knows, we probably have enough firepower on offense this year, it might be okay to have Jordan Allen play a few games in the back four, or even something like a 3-5-2, we’ll see but cross our fingers it doesn’t come to that.
4. Chad Barrett
Barrett is a guy who has torched RSL in the past, in outfits with San Jose, the Sounders, the Galaxy, Toronto FC and Chicago Fire. He’s an outlier compared to the other top 5 on this list considering his age, 31, but keep your eyes on him nonetheless. He’s pounded in 58 goals in 275 league appearances. He’s also no stranger to silverware, nabbing the cup final with the Galaxy in 2011, The U.S Open Cup win with Chicago in 2006 and then again in 2014 with Seattle, where the same year, he also helped the Sounders win the Supporters Shield. A little less prestigious, he also has two Canadian Championship Titles to his name with Toronto in 2009 and 2010.
As far as his team role goes this year, I don’t think he will get a lot of starts considering how high-powered the rest of our attacking third is, minus injury to Yura Movsisyan. But I think he will be a difference-maker in the final stretches of games. Historically, Chad Barrett has had a bit of trouble with consistency, but trust me, when he’s hot, he’s hot. He really reminds me of Jonny Steele who came in late and scored the game winner twice within three games before dropping off the face of the earth. Some readers might be skeptical due to the absolute botched penalty kick in the pre-season game against San Jose, but rest assured, that was a one-time thing and players like Joao Plata will be responsible for scoring in those scenarios.
3. Luis Silva
I honestly don’t know what to accurately surmise of Luis Silva this year, and we’re not fully confident we know what role he’ll even play. Will he start? Come off the bench? Is he the 9? The 10? Something entirely different? Will he stay healthy? Is he going to have a season like he did in 2013 where he was a massive let-down, or is he going to relive 2014 where he took the world by storm scoring 11 goals and 4 assists in just 1,500 minutes.
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but there is something that I do know. Luis Silva is a much, much smarter and experienced player compared to when we last saw him wearing the claret and cobalt. Despite not getting any caps, the experience and knowledge gained from being a part of what was arguably the best team (Tigres UANL) in a much more competitive league, (Liga MX) with extremely high quality players cannot be underestimated.
Another aspect to be excited about is that there is some established chemistry, and he will be well engrossed in pre-season preparation, unlike his first trip with RSL where he was just sort of thrown in and expected to replace and uphold the expectations established by the beloved, and recently retired Alvaro Saborio. As a result we really hope that will establish some consistency. We all know what he is capable of, now lets watch him do it.
2. Jordan Allen
This year for Jordan Allen is really go big or go home. There’s no doubt that he’s versatile, talented, and young, but is he really the standout future of this team, or is it going to be another situation like that of Luis Gil? Jordan clearly has the starting spot out on that right wing, and if he’s going to step up, this really is the year to do it. While he is in fact young, comparatively in terms of years being with the organization, he’s a veteran, and as the MLS begins to further establish itself as a league, the amount of loyalty towards players’ decreases and becomes replaced by who can bring in high-caliber performances, year in and year out. Personally, if Allen doesn’t perform this year I think that this should be a chopping block situation for him, although, that is probably unlikely to be the case.
Despite Jordan Allen not meeting the threshold that I had hoped last year and the year before, all signs look that this could be the year that he exceeds those expectations. His form dramatically increased over the last two off-seasons, he has looked great so far in pre-season, a year older is a year extra of experience, a consistent starting spot will solidify his confidence, and the 4-2-3-1 will allow him to spread out and be more involved on the attack. Everything is in place for him to prove that he is one of the leaders of the new era of Real Salt Lake, let’s hope he can do it.
1. Albert Rusnak
I mean, yeah. There’s a lot of hype about this, as there should be. Adjustment might take some time, and the shoes to fill are pretty big, but as someone who has followed and continues to follow the league he previously played in, Albert Rusnak is someone every fan should be ecstatic about. Whether it’s ball control, the ability to get into open spaces and spread the defense, quickness on the counterattack, pure confidence in himself and passion for the game, among a myriad of other things. Watch number 11.
A lot more could be said about Albert Rusnak, but RSL fans everywhere should see for themselves.
This list easily could have gone to 15, there is so much to be excited about this year, so I may as well throw in some honorable mentions for good measure.
Brooks Lennon - The thought of 19 year old Brooks Lennon is incredibly exciting. I really like Brooks, there’s a lot he provides to be excited about, the name “Liverpool” is enough. It will be incredibly interesting to see how this plays out. There are a few hesitations however. He’s relatively untested, while clearly good enough to join a Liverpool squad youth squad, and even good enough to make the U-23’s at 19, there were plenty others younger than Brooks that Liverpool picked over in terms of further development. At that end, what he will provide for RSL is somewhat of a mystery. He could be absolutely fantastic, or mediocre, it’s unknown, but if he is absolutely incredible, - as we don’t know the exact terms of the loan deal yet, - it is possible for Liverpool to just terminate the loan, so it’s important not to put a lot of eggs in this basket and to not commit ourselves too much to this relationship.
Justen Glad - We know what he can do, and he’s going to be consistent. Frankly, Justen isn’t in the top 5 because this isn't a make or break year for him. This isn’t to say that he won’t be fun to watch, and it won’t be awesome to see him grow even more, but I the likelihood of him throwing curveballs in terms of performance isn’t really a threat.
Lalo Fernandez - Jeff Attinella being gone is just kind of weird, it will be different to get accustom to. But through pre-season so far, Lalo looks pretty good and his development has been impressive. With Nick getting older, and also looking to be the U.S Men’s National Team starting goalkeeper, it’s imperative that either Lalo or Matt Van Oekel step up and prepare RSL for the future.
Holness/Saucedo/Velazco - Very, very excited to watch all these guys, but due to the massive amount of depth this year in the offensive front, i’m not entirely sure how many first team minutes these guys will get, but when they do play, glue your eyes to the pitch. Ricardo Velazco is the future of RSL, folks.