I'll always remember the 2013 MLS Cup Final. Here in the UK, it was shown on Sky Sports at around 11pm and so I made sure I had everything in place to be able to watch the game. At about 2am, that last penalty was taken and heartbreak set in for all Real Salt Lake fans. I can't think of any moment in our history that was harder to take than the sight of Beckerman, Borchers and Rimando all comforting the other members of the squad as the SKC fans cheered on. It was at that moment it dawned on me (and probably the rest of us) that this was the last chance that the core we built a franchise on had to lift the MLS Cup. The departure of Jason Kreis to NYCFC came first and that opened the floodgates to our legends leaving. One by one that core went to pastures new while we continued to forge a new identity to mixed results but there was always one objective in mind with each transaction:
"...we need to continue to get younger..."
So we arrive here, on the cusp of the 2017 MLS season with only Rimando and Beckerman remaining from that core group. In sports, it's often on year 3 that coaches expect to see the fruits of their labor to bloom and last year, it wasn't quite the bountiful harvest that the RSL brass wanted. But if the objective has been for RSL to get younger now is the time to judge if we have met that objected.
So, did RSL get younger? The answer is kinda...
The average age of the squad goes as follows:
Having just turned 31, looking at those states makes me feel a little like....
Anyway, the obvious omission from the 2017 stats is Brooks Lennon who at 19 is only going to bring that average age down. So if we are speaking from a purely numbers perspective then yes, RSL got younger. However as soccer fans we all know that you can have the right numbers and still lose! One thing that's hard to boil down to just a number is experience and it's often that experience that wins or loses a game. I would argue that the 2015 shock playoff miss was down to that lack of experience rather than a lack of young legs and so it pleases me that while RSL is statistically younger that seasons past, we have a lot more experience out on the field.
The addition of guys like Chad Barrett and David Horst didn't shake the world but it provided us with two guys who've been there before. Barrett has an MLS Cup under his belt with the 2011 LA Galaxy and Horst has been deep into the off season as well as the CONCACAF Champions League. These are two guys that you won't be looking to add massive minutes on the field but lead that locker room and keep those young guys firmly on the ground.
Then you only need to look at a guy like Aaron Maund whose coming of age is arriving at a crucial point for a back line that has lacked a leader since Nat Borchers departed. His partnership with Glad has given everyone cause for hope and with Chris Schuler returning to perhaps reach that level we all knew he could, the experience factor has gone through the roof.
Watching the Mic'd Up with Yura Movsisyan video showed how he's a a joker but also a leader at the front, gently showing our young forwards when to uncork that perfect final ball. He's 29, which is a drop from the 34 year old Álvaro Saborío but he's still taken that role of General on the front line. Sunny is 28 and is showing signs of being a vocal midfield maestro and I've been watching and listening to 29 year old Tony Beltran talk like a captain for a good 2 or 3 years now.
So yes, Real Salt Lake have achieved it's goal of getting younger each season since the Jason Kreis era ended, drop of 2 years over 3 seasons is an impressive piece of work. What's more impressive is they did it while retaining enough experience to guide the team through the season and hopefully deep into the off season for many years to come.