As Real Salt Lake fans, I think we should all be forgiven for some pessimism over the past 16 months since the club’s pending sale was announced but not yet executed. It was a slog at times, and every time we thought things were nearing an end, things were drawn out further.
Now that we’ve crested that particular hill, we can start to get a look at what’s on the other side, and I’ve got to say, it looks nice over there. Perfect? No, hardly. But it looks far better than we’ve seen in nearly a decade as Real Salt Lake fans.
With that in mind, here are five reasons I’m excited for 2022.
News about Utah Royals FC
We know now that the Royals are slated to come back to the NWSL. We don’t yet know when, and we don’t yet know what that looks like in detail. One of the things I think we’re all most looking forward to is the Royals returning, and 2022 is undoubtedly the year we’ll get at least a little more detail.
Player investment potential
It doesn’t appear that Ryan Smith or David Blitzer are going to “splash the cash” on players — not that it works in MLS, anyway — but I think we have plenty of reason to believe that they’ll support the club in spending on players where appropriate. What sorts of players might we see investment in? Well, don’t be surprised if we sign a designated player early in the year as we look to bolster some areas of the field — my top priority is the midfield, which is as weak as it’s been since the pre-Beckerman era.
We’ve got evidence that Smith and Blitzer will spend, if just because the Jazz and the 76ers are the fifth- and sixth-highest spending teams in the NBA on salaries. Obviously the investment in MLS players will be significantly lower, simply because of the nature of the league, though may not always be the case.
A meaningful partnership with the Utah Jazz
Now that we’re under the same ownership (at least in part) as the Jazz, I expect to start seeing changes that benefit Real Salt Lake. The big one that comes to mind for me is getting Real Salt Lake off that horrid AXS ticketing platform, which has been painful for so many years. Could RSL end up at Ticketmaster, simply to make things easier? I don’t know, but I like that more than just using the cheapest option.
There will be many more things behind the scenes, too, beyond just a ticketing platform. I am really curious what those are.
A renewed sense of ambition
Already, we’ve seen more ambition from Blitzer and Smith in terms of results than we saw under Dell Loy Hansen — at least stated ambition. We were told directly by a club executive that the goal was to make the playoffs every year, and in a league where something like half the teams make the playoffs, it’s not a particularly ambitious goal. Already, Blitzer has said out loud that the goal is to win MLS Cup. It’s a real breath of fresh air.
The promise of an improved roster and progression from a weird year
I’ve got to have at least one element of on-field play here, right? I mean, signing players is play-adjacent, but I actually think we’ve got some reason to be optimistic heading into 2022. I have not always been a fan of the way Pablo Mastroeni has set this team out to play, but I am optimistic that it will be better when he has more control over the shape of the roster. The 3-5-2 was abandoned (rightly) when things got serious for RSL, but will Mastroeni try it again with the right personnel? I don’t know, but I’m actually looking forward to finding out.
I’m also looking forward to a better-supported data and analytics push. I know we have a presence at the club with Vahe Tanielian, the club’s director of analytics, but one person does not a push make, and even the best analysts need organizational support. Analytics have been an important part of the Utah Jazz and the Philadelphia 76ers, and I suspect we’ll see a similar push.
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My sci-fi short story podcast is in its fourth season, so I thought I’d just share it with you here. This season, I’m reading stories from If magazine, which is a really great publication that published some of the best writers in science fiction, often before they were well-known. My favorite story that’s live so far is probably “Time Enough at Last,” which you’ll know from a great episode of The Twilight Zone starring Burgess Meredith.
Is there anything you’ve been working on lately that you’d like to share? Let’s hear it!