Things are starting to come together for Real Salt Lake as we enter the final part of the season. We have a number of players coming back from injury or returning from international duty and those players who struggled to gel have finally found their groove and are putting together some impressive sequences and dangerous attacking plays consistently in the game. We’re dominating possession but struggling with finishing at times, but all in all we’re starting to find our stride.
RSL have been the perennial “Rebuilding Year” team for about 4 years now but light should now be at the end of the tunnel for the team now. Mike Petke will enter his first post season with the club in 2018 with a big question to answer: Who do you build the team around?
Plans were that Albert Rusnak was going to be the man for a long time but with Joao Plata seemingly staying in Utah and Jefferson Savarino starting to fire on all cylinders it’s not going to be easy to find the next player to lead us to glory. Below are our picks for the RSL talisman.
I’ve always felt that RSL built the team around Kyle Beckerman over Javier Morales. Sure, Morales was the heart and soul of this team and should never have been let go from the club but Kyle has been and still is the engine and the power in the team. It’s simple but effective. Kyle wins the ball, lays it off to a teammate, we drive the ball forward, somebody finishes the chance, rinse and repeat. While Kyle is still here, I think it’s time for us to build further afield and I’d like to see the team keep the faith and continue to build around Albert Rusnak. Not as a “shadow striker” style player though but more as somebody who will connect the dots. Without big changes I don’t see us defensively being the best we can be for a few seasons so a player who can help us keep possession and move the ball to fast wingers is probably going to work out for the best. Give him a solid striker to pair with and his distribution and calm on the ball could keep the tempo and rhythm for the team.
As the MLS becomes more and more of an international league, the concept of building a team around a certain player seems increasingly silly to me. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like the idea of building a team around a certain player, but I do see the likelihood of someone sticking around our squad the length that Becks has as probably unrealistic and unlikely. Our best bet for finding someone young to build the squad around is to find a really promising local mormon lad from the academy who never wants to leave the bubble that is the Utah culture. All jokes aside there are some excellent options.
I think Albert Rusnak is precisely that guy, and if not him I think Savagoal. But to be realistic, with the way Albert is playing the likelihood of him still being here in 2-3 years is very slim. With the political violence and instability occurring in Venezuela, Jefferson Savarino could be here for a long haul, but he, like Rusnak is good enough to seek opportunities “across the pond”, and as a result it may be better to build the squad, moving forward around a core position I.E midfield compared to an individual player.
I know everybody’s been saying Albert Rusnak above, and there’s definitely something to that. He’s a young, talented player that has a lot in front of him. I legitimately think he can be a difference-maker in this league as it evolves. But here’s the thing — Rusnak wouldn’t, on his own, dictate a style of play. No player should, of course, but imagine RSL playing the diamond without Javier Morales — that was truly building around a player.
But imagine Rusnak right now without two wingers that have started to show they’re also difference-makers. He’s not shouldering the entire load himself, and that’s a great thing. Again, no player should ever shoulder that load on their own, but I’m forced to wonder if Rusnak is the guy we build around. Instead, I really think our attacking midfield triumvirate is where we should be looking — so let’s cast this more broadly.
I’d argue that we need to build around Joao Plata, Albert Rusnák, and Jefferson Savarino. Brooks Lennon is close behind. The four of these comprise a very young attacking group, but it’s one that is capable in MLS and beyond. The difficulty will be keeping these three or four together, and we’ll see if we’re able to at the start of 2018.
There are definitely worse players to center your future around than Albert Rusnak. Adding to Matt’s arguments above, it takes a more than one player to make a team great. However, I would argue that the team has played at its best when the defensive midfield has been operating as a connecting piece between the defense and offense. Beyond just a tactical shift, the skill level of being able to stop an attack in the middle third of the field and get a ball up-field and onto your attackers foot is vital for any team.
I would posit that the key player to build the team around in the future will be arriving in the near future. Kyle Beckerman’s replacement will be that player. He needs to be the man that can make the stops and distribute the ball to the play-makers with consistency, that has legs to run for miles and will lay out a player to enforce his dominance. We’ve seen how big a difference Ozzie Alonso or Dax McCarty can make to a team. And of course, we’ve seen for years what Beckerman means to this team. Making a decision on Beckerman’s future, and signing a player to replace him if necessary, will be the biggest decision this off-season.
Who will that player be? That remains to be seen.