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The Salt: Super League? Who cares — RSL is back

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It’s been a long time since we’ve seen RSL play, but European soccer keeps stealing our attention.

Lucas Muller | RSL Soapbox

Alright, now that you’ve made it past my terrible tongue-in-cheek headline, I actually think there’s something to talk about here.

Welcome to the first edition of The Salt in this new season, which, for Real Salt Lake, starts, well, soon. Soon! That’s nice.

Anyway, let’s jump into The Salt. I’d like to introduce you to a few things I’m aiming to do this year with the column by sort of defining that which is the purpose of this thing.

There are three points of focus I have for The Salt:

  • Topical conversations about Real Salt Lake, MLS, and soccer more generally, all through a lens of being a fan of RSL
  • Reflections on RSL-centric news from the week
  • A section of thoughts from the last RSL match, which will be of indeterminate size

So there you have it. I forced myself to define this thing. I apologize for all the times I will inevitably shift the way this is structured.

Anyway, let’s get into it.

Not so Super League, a joke everyone has already made

You’ve probably read about the European Super League, which is a bit of a wild thing to have come about (even if it’s not unexpected — at all, really.) But if you haven’t, here’s an article to read from SB Nation on it.

OK, now that we’re all kind of on the same page, here I think it’s important we start talking about. It’s more important than these weird trends of players laying on the ground during free kicks (which, stop, please, I hate it), and it’s a good deal more important than a number of other things I care deeply about for no particular reason.

But for me, I feel conflicted. You want my take? I, like most people, think the Super League is dumb, and I think there are some significant downsides to operations like this. But it’s also exactly what some folks around MLS and Liga MX have been floating — the idea of a combined league that takes the big teams and puts them in a decidedly more artificial setting. This is the future of soccer, I’m afraid. (Of course, I think it’s a bit rich that FIFA is complaining about this, because, well, 2022 World Cup, and that’s all I need to say.)

This sets a precedent that you just know MLS will want to follow. We have a million teams in the league, and I think they’ll jump at a chance to get LA, LA, New York, and New York into the same league. I don’t want that, but we’ll probably get something like it. Or maybe we’ll get a combined Liga MX-MLS league. Or we’ll get an even more important Leagues Cup. (So, yeah. This is right up MLS’s alley.)

Rio Tinto Stadium really transforms with Vancouver as our guests

(First up: Do you remember when it sounded like we were set for a new stadium sponsor? Me too. But we’re still playing at Rio Tinto Stadium, not RSL Stadium or something neat and non-branded like that.)

In watching the MLS Review Show this week, I was surprised to see just how generic Rio Tinto Stadium can look, with Vancouver Whitecaps playing home games at our place. Obviously that’s all helped by fake digital banners around the stadium, and by the electronic ad boards, but it was interesting for me. Do you think they’re having a nice time? I hope so. We should be good hosts.

Opening night — but not for us

I mean, you expected some saltiness inside, right? I’m a little miffed that Vancouver played in our stadium before we did. I get that we should be good hosts and all that, but I hate the way MLS structured this. I get that there are always scheduling concerns, but for us to not have an opening-week match, while the people we’re hosting at our stadium do? Well, I don’t like it.

RSL’s center back disaster-in-waiting

By and large, I really do think our roster situation is better than it was in 2020, as weird as it is to say that. But we’re carrying less dead weight, we’ve made a couple meaningful signings, and we have done pretty well considering we have an owner looking to sell who’s definitely not going to invest.

But one area hasn’t really been addressed: center back. We currently have three on the roster, so let’s talk about each one.

Marcelo Silva has never played more than 19 regular season games in a season for this club, despite a relatively high price tag. He’s also a bit error prone, with at least one big mistake each match. But those concerns aside, I can see him as a starter for this team.

Justen Glad should be starting every game and not being benched when we get to the end of the season. It’s happened too often and it’s going to be the end of me.

Erik Holt is the quintessential wild card: He’s in the third year of his professional career, and he’s made some pretty massive mistakes during the 12 matches he’s played so far. There’s time yet for him to become a good MLS player, so I’m not overly concerned that he’s on the roster as a backup.

But here’s the thing. If one of these three goes down injured, we’re on our last legs, and we’re using a player out of position as backup. Nick Besler is the obvious choice there, but here’s the thing: He didn’t play there in preseason. We instead played a young academy kid. We haven’t signed that kid. Maybe we will. Besler was instead played in the midfield, where I think he’s a much better player than in defense.

I sincerely hope there’s a new signing coming in at some point. Even if it’s someone at Holt’s level, I think we’d be better off with four center backs instead of three. Might I feel differently if Silva had played a full season at this club? Probably. And whatever the reasons for his absences might be, whether it’s injury or because he’s been third-choice, it is fair to say that he’s untested over 34 games.