Real Salt Lake’s 2022 campaign is underway in just two short days, and the club is in the depths of transition.
The transitions are multiple; the most prominent is clearly the change in ownership, with Dell Loy Hansen ousted in 2020 and a David Blitzer-Ryan Smith group taking over at the start of 2022. The second: Pablo Mastroeni’s first full season as Real Salt Lake coach, having taken over from Freddy Juarez following a shock departure to become an assistant coach at Seattle Sounders.
Real Salt Lake (14-6-14, 7th Western Conference, Western Conference Final runners-up)
Head coach: Pablo Mastroeni
Key additions: Sergio Cordova
Key losses: Albert Rusnak, Anderson Julio
Projected Best XI (3-2-3-2): Ochoa; Silva, Glad, Kappelhof; Ruiz, Luiz; Cordova, Kreilach, Menendez; Rubin, Wood
Best offseason move: The only offseason of move to date is automatically Real Salt Lake’s best one — excluding finalizing an ownership transition 18 months in the making. That’s Sergio Cordova, who has arrived on loan from FC Augsburg, where he wasn’t earning starts, and whose position was usurped by the arrival of Ricardo Pepi.
Best reason to pay attention: Real Salt Lake is finally unshackled from poor ownership and subsequent no-ownership situations, leaving the team with a newfound sense of freedom. On the field, Bobby Wood is reportedly fit for the first time since his arrival at the club, and with a good amount of preseason under his belt, there’s plenty of reason to think that he might be an important player. If he finds an ability to finish, he might be an important figure. The other side of the coin? Real Salt Lake might finally land a true designated player or two, which is sorely needed following the free agency departure of Albert Rusnák.
The one glaring weakness: The club has yet to replace Rusnák, and while his departure may have come as a surprise to some, the absence of a player that netted double digits in goals and assists in 2021 will be keenly felt. Damir Kreilach is likely to drop deeper as a result, which may have an impact on his goalscoring exploits, too — the knock-on effects are likely to be keenly felt. It’s not yet clear how they will solve this, but one hopes the addition of a designated player in the position would go some way to easing that particular weakness.
One fact you can use to impress your friends: Real Salt Lake’s longest-tenured player — and it’s not even close — is Justen Glad, who has been with the club since 2014, when he signed as a 17-year-old. He had to wait a season for his first-team debut, but at just 24 years old, he has over 150 appearances. Fellow homegrown defender Aaron Herrera will hit 100 regular season games after just three appearances in 2022, with the two leading a homegrown charge at RSL.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe character who most personifies this team: I mean, with the Multiverse of Madness coming soon, it’s easy to point to Doctor Strange, but strange is exactly what Real Salt Lake is. The last decade has seen the club go from a contender to disappearing from the radar — a real snap-blip of a situation in MLS if there ever was one. Now, Real Salt Lake is back in apparent contention, but can they overcome the demons that have haunted them? Can they rebuild what was lost? More importantly, will Real Salt Lake field one to three new
X-Men designated players as a result of changes in ownership? We all hope so, but the time and the hour remains very much a mystery.