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Who will be a breakout player for Real Salt Lake in 2022?

RSL Soapbox writers are placing their bets ahead of the new campaign.

Real Salt Lake v Portland Timbers Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images

As we’ve been previewing Real Salt Lake’s 2022 campaign, one question keeps coming to mind: Who might break out in 2022?

In recent years, we’ve seen players like Aaron Herrera, Pablo Ruiz, David Ochoa, Rubio Rubin, and plenty of others go from good prospects to guaranteed starters. Who might be that player for RSL in 2022? Writers from the RSL Soapbox staff have some ideas.

An obvious candidate for this distinction would be Jonathan Menéndez. Already the leading candidate to start on the right-wing of any formation, Menéndez has now had a full pre-season to integrate himself into the setup and settle in with his teammates. Despite the tried and true wisdom that “joining a team mid-season can be difficult”, it’s important to note that the rhetoric for Menéndez is a bit different. While his struggles to get playing time as a wing-back are well documented, he was still statistically RSL’s second best winger in terms of goals and assists per minute played. One could argue that his first half-season with the club was a relative success. We didn’t acquire, nor expect Menéndez to be a defensive minded winger. We brought him to Salt Lake to attack and be a creative spark on the flank. Under the light of having to play as a wing-back, it’s understandable his performances were lackluster at times. What is clear is that despite having that set-back, his goals and assist numbers we’re still very strong compared to the group. With a renewed attacking role looking likely in 2022, the conditions could be right for a fantastic season for Joni.

— Samuel Clark

I would be wrong to choose anyone but Bobby Wood. Bobby is ready to show what he can do in Claret and Cobalt. Stealing a bit from Samuel’s “joining a team mid-season can be difficult”, Wood had a tough 21’ with moving to the States from Germany, having a kid, and dealing with injury. Now that he seems settled, I believe Wood is set it have a big breakout season for RSL. For what it’s worth, Wood has showed this preseason what he’s capable of with a dominate 4 goal performance against UVU. I’d also anticipate that Wood will get the bulk of starts at the 9 until Rubio Rubin fully returns from off-season surgery, and Sergio Cordova (who may play on the wing) gets up to match fitness. At 29 years of age, Wood has something to prove and may yet still have USMNT aspirations. I'd be shocked if he didn’t score double digit goals for us this season.

— Matthew Lane

It has to be Bobby Wood. Wood returned stateside in 2021 and struggled with injuries and getting settled in Utah while learning the idiosyncrasies of a new league. He did well all things considered, but we all know he has a lot more to give. If you hearken back to his days when he was a regular with the USMNT, he had a pretty consistent streak of being a killer playing against some of the best players in the world. I fully expect Wood to make some noise this season.

— Randal Serr

All eyes on Bobby Wood. RSL’s recent history of failed strikers on adds to the immediate pressure, but Bobby Wood showed glimpses of bright promise that echoed his play earlier in his career. The roster’s current setup (along with rumored player targets) points to a significant reliance on Wood’s goal scoring ability and playmaking as a target striker. With a full offseason and preseason, his accumulation to MLS should be complete and RSL fans will get to see how high his potential can reach in 2022.

— Jordan Jacobsen

I am going out on a limb here: Sergio Cordova. I think he is going to surprise people. He is tall, fast, athletic, and he has the nickname ‘The Panther!’ Need I say more? OK, I will. He is coming from a high level of play in the Bundesliga. While he didn’t dazzle over there, he did net 7 goals. He understands different types of play. He has arrived with the team early enough to get fitness up to speed in time to start working into the rotation, and I think he will give us a little hint of the old Alvaro Saborio up top. Yes, I realize he is a winger, and I think we will see him have a breakout season. He is on loan and can really up his value on the open market with a great season. Look for him to be hungry!

— Russell MacKay

So the obvious answer is that it must needs be Bobby Wood. If he can find the form—even 80% of the form—that got him regular minutes with the USMNT, there will be some bright spots for RSL. But. RSL has never been a team that excels with one player running wild. Never. More than one player breaking out, I want to see team chemistry. Without that, we go nowhere in 2022. That means Kreilach needs to lead. It means Rubin needs to make the very best of his opportunities. It means Menéndez needs to earn regular starting minutes and prove that he belongs. I’d rather see everyone play well together than any one player cruise to continual goaldom. Give me a team with many players pulling down seven goals and seven assists over a team with one dude who scores fifteen goals.

— Andy Graff