While we know that preseason isn’t always super meaningful, we also know it isn’t entirely meaningless. It is an opportunity for players to get in shape, build some chemistry, and shake off the offseason rust.
It is also a time for fans to get hyped/frustrated/excited/furious/exuberant as they read way too much into results that have a million different variables at play. Thankfully this warm-up is available for fans and players alike, and if we pay attention there are also a few things to be gleaned from the games. Here are 5 things we learned from Real Salt Lake’s 2017 edition of preseason.
Set Phasers to Stun
Remember the high octane, high press that Craig Waibel and Jeff Cassar have preached about since last October? Unless Cassar has been holding back all preseason in hopes of surprising Toronto with it on March 4th, I don’t know that we’ll actually see it. In fact, most of the defensive shape in the preseason looked fairly identical to what we saw last year: defenders holding a high line, with midfielders and forwards keeping compressed in front of them.
To be fair, it does look like RSL is playing faster on the attacking side of the ball, with this sequence being maybe the ultimate preseason highlight:
So while the high press might not be everything it was billed to be, look for the attack to play at a much faster pace than in 2016.
I am Fred Astaire
The acquisition of Chad Barrett last month was not one that was met with a lot of noise around the league, nor really even among the RSL faithful. It was seen as a savvy move to increase the depth at a position of need, but not necessarily anything season altering. After watching him in preseason I am going to declare it season altering.
That might seem like a crazy thing to say, and it might end up being crazy, but for an RSL fan base that has watched super subs like Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garcia flounder in front of the net over the past few years, the excitement is justifiable. Let me put it this way, Sandoval, Garcia, and Sebastian Jaime, three of the men who have played the #9 spot off the bench in recent years have scored a combined 23 MLS goals. In comparison Barrett has scored 58, sitting just behind Clint Dempsey on the active MLS goal scoring list. If Barrett can continue the form he displayed in preseason, it will be a season altering asset going forward.
A Decade Under the Influence
The average RSL fan when Javier Morales departed this offseason:
It has been difficult saying goodbye to club legends like Morales, Nat Borchers, and Ned Grabavoy over the past few seasons, and some chemistry problems have surfaced. Missing Kyle Beckerman to injury throughout the preseason has exacerbated those problems and led to a lack of identity on the pitch. If Beckerman is out for an extended period, it may take awhile for the new core midfield group to develop the cohesiveness needed to contend in Major League Soccer. Even if Beckerman is healthy, nobody knows how many miles are left on the most well traveled legs in MLS history and sooner or later we will have to find answers in a life without our captain. Early results appear to indicate that finding those answers may be a painful process.
New American Classic
Despite some of the struggles we’ve seen moving on from the old guard, there has been a silver lining in the preseason: these kids are alright. Our homegrown contingent has been impressive in preseason play, particularly recent signing Jose Hernandez and winger Ricardo Velazco, who has paid his dues with the Real Monarchs these past few years.
A handful of other academy products haven’t been with the team much in preseason but have shown well on international duty with the U.S. U-20’s. Brooks Lennon and Sebastian Saucedo can’t stop scoring, Lennon is pacing the team with 4 goals while Saucedo grabbed a brace in their last contest, including this rip from distance:
Justen Glad and Danilo Acosta have both played major minutes and will look to play major roles when they return from that tournament. While the transition may be rocky at times, the future looks to be in good hands.
One-Eighty by Summer
While mostly the preseason has been positive and players have shown well, there is one position that RSL may need to find a fix this summer: center back. While this has been the case for awhile now, and I have made a solemn vow that no more dead horses will be beaten in the name of RSL’s central defense, it is obvious that Real Salt Lake has a few issues in the back.
Maybe this will change once Justen Glad returns, and a solid partnership is established. That all hinges on Chris Schuler remaining healthy and either David Horst or Aaron Maund surpassing their current ceilings. Barring either of those minor miracles, expect Waibel to continue searching for a TAM level center back (I think DP would be a mistake) to bring in this summer and partner with Glad.
What’d we miss? Tell us what you learned this preseason in the comments below!