The RSL Soapbox staff is chomping at the bit for the 2019 season to get underway. With each new season brings the prospect of new players stepping forward, old players building on their legacy, and the team pushing for trophies.
While we all know that Major League Soccer is unpredictable, that isn’t stopping us from trying to divine who will lead the club on to glory. The following is the culmination of the best guesses of 8 of our main contributors and analysts. Are we right? Are we wrong? Let us know your predictions for 2019. We’ll check in mid-season and again at the end of the season to see how we did.
— Miles Dunn
Team MVP: Albert Rusnak (4 votes)
Runners Up: Damir Kreilach (3 votes) and Sam Johnson (1 vote)
This prediction, I predict, will look really terrible until late June. Albert Rusnak is a good player, certainly, but I think he’ll struggle to get his feet under him playing out wide with this team, should he do that. I’m strongly suspecting that’ll be the case, and there’s a learning curve there. Now, I could certainly be wrong; he could continue to play in a central role and will see immediate success. That said, I think he has the tools for success in either attacking role, and that will — I think — drive him to an MVP pick.
— Matt Montgomery
Golden Boot: Sam Johnson (4 votes)
Runners Up: Damir Kreilach and Corey Baird (2 votes each)
RSL is far removed from the days of having a single individual be a runaway leading scorer and, due to the style and approach of the current squad, it is unlikely to return to that situation in 2019. It is much more likely that there will be a group of 4-5 individuals who will all score somewhere between 7 and 12 goals in the 2019 season. As frequently happens, the individual who takes the majority of the penalty kicks will rise to the top of this group and I expect that individual will be Sam Johnson. He has a nice touch and what better way to increase his confidence and help him integrate with the team?
— Dave Cheever
Most Assists: Albert Rusnak (5 votes)
Runners Up: Jefferson Savarino (2 votes) and Damir Kreilach (1 vote)
Rusnak has shown the talent and potential to be at Javier Morales’ level, whether or not he achieves it in the next few years with RSL, or if/when he eventually moves on is yet to be seen - we hope it’s the former! This year he’s now played with the mostly the same group of players for at least a year, and knows what movement to expect from them. If Petke (hopefully) has figured out the best formation, Albert will be able to hit key passes to any forward which should lead to shots and goals.
— Kreg Asay
Defender of the Year: Aaron Herrera (3 votes)
Runners Up: Nedum Onuoha and Tony Beltran (2 votes each); Brooks Lennon (1 vote)
Last year, Herrera played in 16 regular season games. For a rookie, that is a lot. When you consider 14 of those were starts and came in the last 14 games of the regular season, that’s even more impressive. Herrera took some time to earn his opportunity but once he did he seized it, and clearly he has done something to impress Mike Petke. When you look at a player like Justen Glad last year, played nearly every minute of the regular season but got benched in the playoffs. This didn’t happen for Herrera, he continued to play the full 90 of all three of Salt Lake’s playoff matches. Petke has faith in Herrera, and from what we’ve seen in his preseason, there’s no reason to expect his quality of play to decline. If Herrera continues on last season, he should be a quality young presence on our backline this year.
— Megan Webb
Most Minutes Played: Nick Rimando (3 votes)
Runners Up: Kyle Beckerman, Jefferson Savarino, Brooks Lennon and Albert Rusnak (1 vote each)
In trying to determine who will play the most minutes, like all sections of this prediction article, it would be really nice to you know, actually be able to predict the future. This one like many others is a complete tossup and members of our staff have put forth some really good suggestions. Kyle Beckerman will be a mainstay in the midfield, at least to the extent that he’s healthy and can perform. While I personally, think given his age, his primary role should be a battering ram sub, I’m not exactly convinced that Mike Petke views his role that way. That said, while I think he will play a decent amount, unlike one of our staff members, I don’t see him leading, much less in the top 5 of minutes played.
Jefferson Savarino and Albert Rusnak are interesting cases for me. I agree that both of them will play a lot, but given the role that they play on their respective countries national teams, an incredibly condensed schedule, and the sheer depth of the team, I don’t think either will play the most amount of minutes.
Brooks Lennon is an intriguing option for the top minute contender. While I don’t doubt that Petke will likely opt to play the prospect over the veteran at right back despite the hesitation of many including me, Lennon is an incredible option up top as well.
Concerning between the sticks, Putna did not look great in pre-season, although he is an exciting prospect, Horvath is who knows where, and there’s a strong preference for Ochoa to develop in game time scenarios with the Monarchs. I contend that Nick Rimando is not going to lose his spot anytime soon as long as he can stay healthy which I think he will be able to as the G.O.A.T will defend his wall, and pretty much all season long.
— Wirtjo Leonard
New Comer of the Year: Sam Johnson (6 votes)
Runners Up: Everton Luiz and Tate Schmitt (1 vote each)
The addition of Designated Player Sam Johnson this off season Real Salt Lake have added a striker with the ability and attitude that the team has not seen in years. Not only does he have European experience, but slotting into a position with a supporting group of players that helped Corey Baird acheive the MLS Rookie of the Year last season, he will have ample opportunity to achieve what ever goals Johnson and Mike Petke have laid out for the Liberian national team player. With the continued support of the attacking players on the RSL team we can only expect Sam Johnson to be a standout in the 2019 season and the RSL Soapbox predicted Newcomer of the Year.
— Jordan Webb
Season Points Total: High - 54 pts; Low - 46 pts; Average - 50 pts
RSL hasn’t hit the 50-point mark since 2014, when they finished with 56 thanks to the likes of Joao Plata, Javier Morales, and Alvaro Saborio. That marked the end of a five-year run from 2010-2014 where they finished above 50 points (56, 53, 57, 56, and 56), and since then they’ve struggled to find the attacking firepower they once had. This season, with the addition of DP striker Sam Johnson as well as the emergence of Damir Kreilach last year as an attacking force, there seems to be a multitude of scoring options that Petke could field in the lineup. While nobody realistically expects RSL to finish at the top of the conference, it’s not unreasonable to think they could find a way to get at least one more point than they did last year (49), which would most likely all but guarantee them a spot in the playoffs. Since Johnson is the only new incoming striker who’s expected to be getting plenty of playing time, hopefully he can gel with the rest of the attacking players quickly, while Nedum Onuoha’s first full season, coupled with the return of Tony Beltran and the addition of Donny Toia, can bolster the defense to help things along.
— Ryan Sanders
Does RSL Make the Playoffs: 66% voted yes, 22% voted no
The past two seasons RSL have been far from a juggernaut in the Western Conference. Their play has been inconsistent at best and they have had numerous and sustained injury concerns. Many of the changes made in the past off-season were to increase depth and versatility leading to the frequently heard mantra of “this is the deepest RSL team ever”. Whether you believe this or not, it is reasonable to expect that they will perform no worse than in the past two seasons. Seasons in which they barely made the playoffs and barely missed the playoffs. Simply put there are plenty of teams in the Western Conference that are in the same, or perhaps worse, state. I doubt that RSL will power through their regular season schedule and finish in the top two or three in the conference, but RSL will be within the top 7 clubs and make the expanded playoffs in 2019.
— David Cheever
See, I’m a little more skeptical here: The Western Conference is, in some ways, improving, and I’m worried that we’re set to be left behind. Remember near the top of this where I said that I think that Albert Rusnak might play on the left wing, and that he’ll still get an MVP award? Yeah, I don’t think that means the team will succeed. Early signs haven’t been positive, with the same mistakes from 2019 popping up in our preseason. If we can’t improve on that, we have no chance. I’m predicting this, but golly, I’m sure hoping I’m wrong about this.
— Matt Montgomery
What hardware does RSL win in 2019: Rocky Mountain Cup (5 votes)
Runners Up: Nothing (2 votes) and the US Open Cup (1 vote)
Pop quiz - when was the last time we lost the RMC? Tough to remember isn’t it (2015). And what’s the current record of wins? 10-4 in our favor. Yet for the first time in years it does appear that Colorado may actually give us a challenge; they’ve brought in some savvy veteran players (including a detested one formerly from SKC), and since we only play them twice this year there isn’t the usual rotating 2 games at home advantage from previous years. However, with the altitude advantage negated for both teams, we’ve done fairly well in their quaint rural field. We should be able to get at least a tie in May and the win at home in August, giving RSL the cup for an 11th time.
— Kreg Asay