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Roundtable: Does RSL need to sign a nine?

Do two misses in the position give pause for thought?

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

One of the more controversial goings-on at Real Salt Lake of 2018 has been the lack of a true center forward on the roster.

Of course, that ignores Alfredo Ortuño, who did little himself to be part of that conversation, and who left on a free transfer mid-season.

You’ll remember our last Round Table, where we asked if RSL should retain the services of Craig Waibel in 2019. The question this week: Does Real Salt Lake need to sign a number nine?

Let’s get right to it. I’m your host, Matt Montgomery, and I’ll introduce our writers and our guest opinion. I have some thoughts of my own, and I’ll include those at the end.

Wirtjo Leonard

Wirtjo has been a substantial part of our 2018 Utah Royals coverage, and you’ll recognize him from The RFC Show. He also covers Player of the Match for Real Salt Lake when not swamped with Royals coverage.

It’s been weird. Last year we needed a nine, and Luis Silva filled in and performed spectacular within that role. This year, while there is still plenty of evidence that we need a number nine, we also have two goal-scorers in double digits, something that we haven’t done in years. As a result I think we face a bit of a conundrum, as much as it would be nice to have a new striker, where is the line between bringing in someone who can actually get the job done unlike the past two experiments and disrupting the current chemistry up top. I think an additional dilemma is what do we do with Corey Baird, does he move to the wing in a scenario where we bring in a nine, does that stunt his growth, etc? Ultimately, I think you take that risk and bring in a striker, a proven one with an experienced goal scoring record.

Featured Fan Voice: David Dillman

I reached out to David to provide an opinion here after a FanPost he posted last week concerning Craig Waibel.

Not before September 14th, 2018. My answer is YES. However, I do think that it is too late within the season to get one. I don’t want Waibel & Co. to rush this process, we have had too many strikers fail us in the past four years. The MLS roster freeze date is in less than TEN days, and the only addition I possibly see Real Salt Lake making is the acquisition of DF Nedum Onuoha. For next season, a true #9 makes complete sense, we need a consistent target in the box and another aerial threat besides Damir. Next year, Beckerman should be starting fewer games, and therefore I would love to see a Damir/Sunny combo in the middle of the pitch. For right now, all three players (Damir, Kyle, and Sunny) deserve to be on the pitch and are playing very well. A true number nine will help this team when scoring isn’t exactly going our way, but despite that missing piece, we should understand that the team is a puzzle and while it’s not complete it still makes a good picture. To conclude, Real Salt Lake’s roster isn’t perfect (it never will be) and if we treat RSL like an incomplete team that can’t make a strong playoff push then most likely they will play like an incomplete team.

Kreg Asay

Kreg is one of the longest-tenured writers here at RSL Soapbox, having joined the team in March 2013. He also wrote with me on a previous blog in 2012, too. You’ll recognize Kreg from his strikingly consistent Power Rankings Overviews, and he’s produced a variety of other content on the site over the last five years.

We can, and will likely have to finish out this season without one; but it needs to be a priority in the off-season. Playing the ‘false 9’ can work vs some opponents, but for others you need brute force rather than deception. Someone who can run onto or receive balls over the top, hold off defenders long enough to pass off to someone else, and then get into better position. We haven’t had a striker of that caliber since Alvaro Saborio; Devon Sandoval was a decent substitute or fill-in at times, and has been doing fairly well in the USL; but he never seemed to be able to step up to regular starter. While we may be able to find a new striker on the open market, chances are that they’ll be costly - possibly out of RSL’s budget. We can’t expect someone with the quality of Messi to come to Utah, so we’re going to have to look for some budget targets from areas where we have had some previous success (see Damir Kreilach, and Albert Rusnak).

Andy Graff

Andy Graff is a published author and the man behind What We Learned, which you’ll know from his quick reactions to matches. He joined at the beginning of 2017, so he’s close to celebrating two years with the site.


Before the playoffs? Nah. Not this year.

Everybody needs a striker; that’s what makes it so hard to find the the right fit. Nail down a player who looks good on paper, bring him in, and poof: Ortuño. Find a guy who scores goals and needs a team? Make him an offer? Great. He chose another team.

This is probably the hardest position on any roster to fill, and you know the front office guys are acutely aware of our need. It keeps them awake at night (even if it’s only because they’re making international phone calls to places seven hours or more different from Mountain Time).

Let the roster we have do what they’re doing this season, and this off-season get the striker exactly right. Perfect. Spot on.

Jordan Webb

One of our new writers in 2018 (with an early debut in Nov. 2017), Jordan is a columnist and curates some of our most comprehensive Royal Roundups.

It’s easy to say that we need a true striker, but it’s fun to know that we can do things in our own way without one. With a group of striker misfits on the roster there’s always something different going on up top. The team has a couple blowout games now, and yes, against a 9-man Colorado it can be easy to net 6 goals, but Kreilach came out with the first RSL hat trick in years. That’s not an easy accomplishment, especially playing out of position. If we can get these young guns up to speed and maturity with decision making we can have a different take on each game as we see fit for whatever the match up may be. Sure, go get a #9, just make sure he isn’t a disappoint in the character department like Movsisyan and Ortuno are.

Matt Montgomery

So, I know this isn’t a popular opinion, but I actually would not sign a central striker at this point. I would sign another attacking midfielder in the style of Albert Rusnak — somebody to join in a rotation. As long as we have Rusnak, who I believe is very capable in this almost-false-nine role, I think we should continue down the path we’re on now.

Now, I do think we need somebody who can score between 15 and 20 goals a year, but for me, that player is Albert Rusnak, and he might be joined in that effort by Damir Kreilach. So long as we have Rusnak and Kreilach, I’d be inclined to continue down this path. It’s not just about recent results, though. We finally have a distinctive style with a front-line rotation.

So, no. Let’s stay how we are and strengthen in other ways, and let’s increase our attacking midfield depth.