One of the greatest disappointments in sports is the acquisition that for whatever reason just doesn’t quite work out. Sometimes its the result of bad team fit, poor performance, or the search for greener pastures.
It can be a player deciding his time is up, the team deciding for him, or a mutual termination (let’s be honest, like all relationships it’s never really mutual). Though each case is different, here are five Real Salt Lake signings that didn’t stick.
We’ll start with the highest name recognition of anyone on this list. Freddy Adu came to Real Salt Lake while his star was still rising, on the verge of fulfilling his destiny as the future of American soccer. He was reuniting with his U-17 coach John Ellinger who was planning on moving him to his preferred position in the center of the pitch. Fireworks were in the cards.
11 appearances and one goal is a low return for such a hyped prospect, even if the RSL brass were likely aware the prodigy would be seeking a European vacation when he turned 18. Despite Adu’s lack of impact on the RSL history books, the trade will go down as one of the most notable in MLS history: a goalkeeper named Nick Rimando was the true prize in this deal.
Since his time in Claret and Cobalt, Adu has donned a plethora of other kits and colors. His pro career has included 13 teams in eight countries, never quite living up to his potential and inspiring John Ellinger to (allegedly) send his former pupil this Snapchat:
When RSL signed Elias Vasquez before the 2015 season head coach Jeff Cassar had this to say about the young center back: “We wanted a player that could stay with our team for a long time, and I think Elias fits that perfectly. He’s a young player in the national team for Guatemala. He’s a starter for his club team and he has come in with a fantastic attitude.”
Vasquez was brought in to be a long term stud at center back, but this was not to be as the Guatemalan only made 15 appearances before having his option declined at the end of the season.
Argentine signings have a special place in RSL lore, with players like Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola setting high expectations for all those who would follow in their footsteps. When Sebastian Jaime arrived in the summer window of 2014, he was expected to fit the same mold, a talented Argentine attacker who could be a cornerstone player and wow fans with his technical skills. His highlight reel (complete with dope tunes) only added to the buzz:
Unfortunately, his man bun was more impressive than his ball skills during his time in Salt Lake, as he failed to tally a goal or assist in his six appearances to finish that season. 2015 was a small step forward, as he scored 5 goals and a pair of helpers, but those results were well below the expectations the front office and fans had for the DP signing.
After being released by Real the Argentine found his way back to Chile, signing with Universidad Catolica for a season before reuniting this year with his original club Union Espanola.
Imagine the excitement if at any time over the past two years a rumor had surfaced indicating that RSL was in the process of signing a 23 year old centerback with 60+ caps in Liga mx and Serie A, along with 6 international caps for a top 20 team in the FIFA rankings. It would be an ideal signing, a perfect intersection of positional need and future potential. RSL already had that type of player in Carlos Salcedo, but were forced to transfer him to Chivas Guadalajara after a falling out with the club.
Of course it’s hard to know if Salcedo would have developed on a similar trajectory had he continued to ply his trade along the Wasatch front, but it’s likely that even on the low end Salcedo could’ve developed into a very good starting centerback in MLS. It is also hard to know exactly what happened behind closed doors that led to his departure, but you can bet its something that still haunts Craig Waibel. Unlike others on this list, Salcedo isn’t a flop: He’s the one that got away.
Luckily for the franchise another young defender was developing in the midst of this saga, and Justen Glad has likely benefited from the first team minutes Salcedo left behind. Though I’ll always wonder what a Glad/Salcedo tandem would’ve looked like, the future of the backline looks bright with Glad manning the middle.
Juan Manuel Martinez
Rancherito’s, Beto’s, etc. many of you have likely been to the type of establishment where the guacamole flows like wine and crackling speakers belt the sweet trills of mariachi bands. There is an experience that is had at these types of places that can only be understood by one who has experienced it.
It goes like this. First, you order a burrito, because getting anything else at a place like this is heresy. Second, the burrito arrives and you take a bite, launching your body face first into sensory overload. The smell, the taste, the colors, everything is amazing and you are stunned that something so incredible can be had for only a few pieces of paper with George Washington on them. It is the perfect culmination of the American Dream. Third, the euphoria starts to fade in direct proportion to how full your stomach is. Fourth, you look at what is left in your hand and find that what once appeared so pure and perfect is now utterly unappealing. Grease covers your hands and you think about rushing to the bathroom before remembering that entering the bathroom at this place without a hazmat suit is a major party foul. You slump back into your seat, defeated.
That long ramble encapsulates the rollercoaster of emotions that were brought to Real Salt Lake fans by the coincidentally nicknamed Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez. Although the nickname refers to a small donkey and not a Beto’s burrito, Martinez similarly arrived with great promise, suddenly faded toward the end of 2016, and eventually left fans feeling sick to their stomachs by announcing his departure this past offseason.
During his time in Salt Lake Martinez officially recorded 8 goals and 4 assists, but if “ankle breakers” were an official stat, he likely would’ve led the league. The former Boca Juniors player had skills with the ball at his feet that few in MLS could hope to match and he entertained fans on the daily. His production dropped however as homesickness set in, and he played a contributing factor in RSL’s poor offensive output to end the season.
Though Martinez will be missed, RSL has a stable of young attackers ready to battle for the starting spot on the right wing. Hopefully one of them will stake a strong claim to the position before too long. In the meantime, let us remember the Burrito we loved, not the one we lost:
How’d we do? Anyone we missed? Let us know in the comments below.