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Why Real Salt Lake is worse in 2022

While a new era may be starting, the beginning stages may be a bit rocky.

Real Salt Lake v Portland Timbers: 2021 MLS Playoffs - Western Conference Final Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

2022 is a year of great change for Real Salt Lake, but that doesn’t mean things are automatically going to be better than they were.

Earlier today, we at RSL Soapbox told you why Real Salt Lake is better in 2022. Now, we’re telling you that the team might actually be worse in 2022.

The money for signings hasn’t arrived yet, but it still is for direct competition. A quick look at other teams in the Western Conference will show a continuation of what has been a growing trend in terms of spending, one that has RSL’s roster rated worst in MLS in terms of total value according to Transfermarkt. Signing a player like Gustavo Cuellar would give the Claret and Cobalt a comparable window to many of these teams, but little to “close the gap” in spending that has already been gained.

Even with that in consideration, this signing is still only speculation, while other teams have already finished very real, very important transfers ready to go in the first match week. Despite all the encouraging behind-the-scenes talk of lining up some important transfers (and while it seems promising that key signings are indeed coming in the future,) it seems very little of it will be completed by February 27. RSL will almost certainly be having to get by until the summer transfer window with relatively the same roster as last year, minus the 19 goals and 12 assist that Rusnák and Julio combined for last season.

— Samuel Clark

We have not replaced roster spots lost or needed from last year. Let’s start at the back and move our way forward. Toni Datkovic was supposed to help out our beleaguered backline as a TAM signing, but he obliviously didn’t work out, and from our setup two days ago in preseason, Pablo has not abandoned the 3 man back line as we may have hoped. And while we have just added Johan Kappelhof, he has only seen 23 games (1430 mins) in the last 2 years due to injury While that’s a start, we probably need another CB for when Silva gets hurt. Additionally, Donny Toia departed the club in the off season leaving us with no true left back on the roster.

While the midfield has added Scott Caldwell, don’t count on him being more than a bit player. Last season, he only played in 13 matches for a combined 198 mins for New England Revolution. This leaves us again with a Luiz, Ruiz, Besler, Kreilach midfield. With Everton aging (he’ll be 34 this year,) and Ruiz having more off-matches than on last season, we missed by not shoring up the spine, and teams may exploit this weakness.

Up front, the loss of Albert Rusnak and Anderson Julio cannot be understated. While Albert leaving opens up Kreilach moving to the 10, there is not obvious replacement for Albert’s combined 22G/A. Anderson Julio’s speed and finishing off the bench is also something that hasn’t been replaced, and while rumors say he may be back, that is yet to be confirmed. Question marks remain on whether our other forwards can make up the difference.

— Matthew Lane

RSL’s MLS playoff run in 2021 set high expectations. RSL overachieved in a lot of ways in 2021, and now, the bar is higher. If RSL does not at least make the Western Conference Finals, is the season a failure in 2022? You could make a strong case, especially now that RSL has so much more stability with new ownership and a few new signings either already with the club or coming in the next few months. It’s hard to argue that they shouldn’t be better than they were in 2021.

Another point on this subject — how many games did Anderson Julio bail RSL out in the dying minutes of matches destined for dropped points? The signing of Julio is unresolved, and he may very well not be back with RSL. The uncertainty around a player that has a unique ability to change the game as a substitute leaves Real in a tough situation at the moment. If he returns, he will have missed the critical preseason preparation with the club.

— Randal Serr