2019 holds a great deal of promise for Real Salt Lake. It also holds a great deal of risk.
After a surprising end to 2018 — a regular season sloping down toward the end, with the team scraping into the playoffs before notching a huge road playoff victory over LAFC — 2019 starts without a clear trajectory.
How did they finish in 2018?
Real Salt Lake finished 2018 much like the rest of the year: They were at times extremely good, and they were at times extremely poor. One needs look no further than the playoff win over LAFC for the former, and the subsequent playoff loss to Sporting Kansas City for the latter.
Had Real Salt Lake not inched into the playoffs, the feeling around the team would have been significantly different. A late-season collapse (one win in their final six matches) would have remained the story, despite scoring six goals in back-to-back matches.
What’s new in 2019?
It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly has changed outside of two arrivals: Everton Luiz, on loan from SPAL, is set for a starting midfield role; Sam Johnson, arriving from Valerenga, is going to challenge for the starting striker role.
The team has also played with a new tactical approach in preseason, in which Kyle Beckerman plays in a hybrid role, dropping in line with the center backs in possession to form a 3-5-2. It remains to be seen how that really shapes up, but it does provide a different perspective than RSL’s 4-2-3-1 of 2018.
Only one starting player has left: Sunny, whose option was declined, won’t have his hard-tackling presence felt in the midfield. Additionally, Danilo Acosta, who many argue should be a starting player, has left on loan to Orlando City.
- GK - Connor Sparrow
- D - Shawn Barry
- D - David Horst
- D - Taylor Peay
- D - Demar Phillips
- D - Danilo Acosta
- M - Jose Hernandez
- M - Sunny
- F - Ricky Lopez-Espin
- F - Luis Silva
- GK - David Ochoa (Homegrown)
- D - Donny Toia (Re-Entry Draft)
- D - Erik Holt (Homegrown)
- M - Everton Luiz (loan from SPAL)
- M - Luis Arriaga (Homegrown)
- F - Julian Vazquez (Homegrown)
- F - Tate Schmitt (Homegrown)
- F - Sam Johnson (transfer from Valerenga)
What’s the new jersey?
Our very own Lucas Muller snapped some great photos of this new thing. It’s mostly white, but the, uh — the printer ran out of ink. I’ll see myself out.
Projected starting XI
Lennon, Glad, Silva, Herrera
Savarino, Kreilach, Rusnak
Expectations for 2019?
Here’s a hard thing about Real Salt Lake in the current era: We can be really, really good. Our attack is among the best in MLS when it’s working well. We put six goals past LA Galaxy and Colorado Rapids in back-to-back weeks. But when things are bad, they’re particularly bad. We’ve given up goals inside the opening minutes of matches over and over and over, and that’s continued to be the case in preseason. It’s a distressing thing.
For those reasons, it’s difficult to find realistic expectations for Real Salt Lake in 2019. We are forced to wonder if they’ll improve, if they’ll regress, or if they’ll stay basically the same. We didn’t get a clear picture of the future from preseason, and that makes this particularly difficult.
Who is THE player to watch on your team, and why?
It’s got to be Sam Johnson at this point. RSL has struggled to find a starting-caliber central forward, and Johnson is our latest attempt to fill that position. The ins-and-outs of the search come for a number of reasons, and we have questions about player fit and about coaching interactions with said players.
For that reason, Johnson is the player to watch. Can he win a place in the starting lineup? Will his play fit in with the lineup? There’s some reason for excitement here, but there are also plenty of unknowns.
What’s the biggest concern for this season?
Can Real Salt Lake cut out their defensive mistakes? In an interview this week, RSL coach Mike Petke talked about the team’s need to execute on his instructions defensively. If the team can’t do that by the end of preseason, then two major sets of questions remain.
First, can the team execute on Petke’s instructions? Is the team properly constructed to execute those instructions? Do they have the proper personnel?
Second, are the instructions actually executable? Are they coherent? Are they being properly delivered?
It is certainly possible that both sets of questions have answers in either the affirmative or the negative. They remain the questions at the heart of Real Salt Lake’s 2019 campaign, and of the current administration.
How much will this roster change after the season starts?
There remain active questions about how Real Salt Lake will supplement the squad, particularly as the summer transfer window rolls around. If RSL coach Mike Petke is serious about trying out a 3-5-2 approach, we will be forced to contend with one big question: Do we have the right players to operate in such a way? Do we need additional players to make it work? Is Kyle Beckerman the right option to play that way?
We can’t expect many changes in the roster, but don’t be surprised if there are one or two tweaks throughout — and don’t be shocked if more academy players start filtering in to the first team ranks.