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The Salt: Evaluating RSL’s 2022 roster so far

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Is RSL better or worse off?

MLS: Playoffs- Semifinals-Real Salt Lake at Sporting KC Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake’s roster is — well — interesting right now, and it feels a little mix-and-match.

Obviously we have reason to believe that will change over time, but let’s take some time now to go through where things stand. It might help us highlight potential problem areas, and it’ll definitely help us understand our strengths.

Goalkeepers — 4

Rostered: Gavin Beavers, Jeff Dewsnup, Zac MacMath, David Ochoa

This is the strongest part of our roster, I’d say. We’re well-positioned for success with Ochoa, have a reasonable backup and leader in MacMath, and have two promising young goalkeepers available if worse comes to worse.

No concerns from me.

Defenders — 9

Rostered: Andrew Brody, Toni Datkovic, Zack Farnsworth, Justen Glad, Bret Halsey, Aaron Herrera, Erik Holt, Jaziel Orozco, Marcelo Silva

Let’s break this into groups.

At center back, we have Datkovic, Farnsworth, Glad, Holt, Orozco and Silva. If Farnsworth is available and not injured, I’d love to see what he can do. I think we’re in a good spot, so long as Datkovic stays — and plays better than he did last year. Silva and Glad make a good starting partnership, but it’s one that needs backup to Silva, who remains injury-prone. Holt is, well, Holt, and fine for a last-ditch option. Orozco is the promising young player of the group, and I sure hope we didn’t sign him just to sign him. Let’s give him a chance some time.

At full back — and I won’t break this up by left and right, because we have no true left backs — we have Brody, Halsey and Herrera. That’s extremely slim, and unless we’re planning to never play with full backs or wing backs, I guess it’ll work, because two of those players can play winger at a reasonable level. But we need a left back, and we should play with people dedicated to defending wide positions, because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t. As for Halsey, I don’t really have an opinion.

Midfielders — 7

Rostered: Julio Benitez, Nick Besler, Scott Caldwell, Maikel Chang, Damir Kreilach, Pablo Ruiz, Jude Wellings

We’ll break this into groups again. We have seven rostered “midfielders,” but one — Chang — plays in wide positions and fits this roster better as a forward, at least in the way the club has structured these groups in press releases.

First, the defense-minded players: We have two in Nick Besler and Scott Caldwell. Pablo Ruiz is a bit between this group and the next, so let’s consider him here, too. This is not good enough, and we will struggle if we only have three players for two positions. It’s worse if you consider Ruiz as less defense-minded. Maybe we can play with one and two more attacking midfielders, but we’ll run into the same problem.

Alright, the next set — the attacking midfielders. Damir Kreilach is our only player here, unless we go with a true holding midfielder and two 10s, and Ruiz is one of those. Regardless, we have no depth here. Menendez could also play this role, but he’s been a winger throughout his career, and I don’t know that I want to get into the habit of putting players in less-used positions when considering optimal use on a roster.

We do have youth in these ranks, but you tell me — should we really consider a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old for regular first-team minutes? Is that fair to the player? I maintain that it is not unless we have exceedingly good evidence of their abilities. Of the young players we’ve signed, Benitez and Wellings are probably the two I know the least about.

Forwards — 6

Rostered: Bode Davis, Chris Garcia, Jonathan Menendez, Justin Meram, Rubio Rubin, Bobby Wood

This is a weird group. It includes our wide attacking players — wingers, mostly — and central forwards. This is the most malleable part of our formation moving forward, I suspect, so the way we think about these players will be particularly interesting.

In the forward spots, we have Rubin and Wood, and I think that’s OK if you are planning to play with one forward. If we play with two, we lose roster flexibility in a a big way, and I don’t think it’s sustainable with Wood, who defines injury-prone, and Rubin, who struggled through a nagging injury for the back half of 2021. Rotation will be important for both of these players. We could put Kreilach up top in those cases, but, uh, we don’t have an attacking midfield option at that point.

On the wing, we have Menendez and Meram, plus — I guess — Bode Davis and Chris Garcia. Garcia was sent home from Ljungskile, where he was on loan, after sustaining a major injury. Let’s include Chang in the wingers, too.

I think we need to mention Davis in his own paragraph, because in two seasons with Real Monarchs, he’s played at forward, left wing, right wing, attacking midfield, defensive midfield, and right back. So, uh — I don’t really know where he belongs in this grouping, but I’m really curious to see him play first-team minutes.

I think it’s clear from this: RSL needs help on the wings. It explains why the club is reportedly looking for a player that can own a spot on the left wing. It gives us a lot more assuredness in that case.

Players that might be coming back — 2

We know from interviews conducted with Elliot Fall that Real Salt Lake is in contact with Everton Luiz and Anderson Julio in efforts to potentially bring them back to the club. That fills two holes. The first is in midfield depth, and with Luiz, I’d feel reasonably confident in the defensive portion of our midfield following the addition of Caldwell.

Anderson Julio, for me, doesn’t yet fill a hole in the attack. We still need two players we feel comfortable and excited to start in the attack.

Players that might sign

We might sign one or both of our draft picks. I dunno. Probably not, though.

Other than that, the rumor mill is very quiet. That’s either a great thing or a bad thing.

Replacements

This is roughly how I’m thinking about the improvement of the roster thus far.

  • Portillo → Caldwell — this is a great move. Portillo played 13 minutes for RSL in 2021. Caldwell can’t do much less than that.
  • Luiz → ??? — this may read “Luiz → Luiz,” which makes me laugh.
  • Julio → ??? — see above
  • Rusnak → ??? — yeah. We need a replacement here.

For a number of players, we might as well have a young homegrown player instead of somebody older. Let’s just lump these together.

  • Jeizon Ramírez, Douglas Martínez, Andrew Putna, Tate Schmitt, Noah Powder, Milan Iloski, Ashtone Morgan → Jaziel Orozco, Julio Benitez, Gavin Beavers, Jude Wellings

That’s seven players and four replacements. We’ve got plenty of room to grow there. Would I be mad if the two draft picks were signed and they filled those spots? Not particularly. I don’t have that much energy. We have bigger needs to fill.

The Final Grade

I actually think we’re doing alright at this point in the almost-preseason. We need a few more players, especially in the midfield, but if we execute a couple re-signings, I don’t think we’re worse off from last year, barring Albert Rusnak’s departure. Would I love for us to get exponentially better? Yeah. Obviously. But this is MLS, and it’s extremely rare to get exponentially better. The roster mechanisms simply aren’t there to add a bunch of players all at once.

Oh, I guess I promised a grade. How about a C-, with potential to move up to a B or B+ if Rusnak is properly replaced? Let’s go with that.