Real Salt Lake had the busiest offseason since it joined Major League Soccer — in one day.
So why are some saying that RSL actually may be better off than they were before?
The claret and cobalt may have unloaded eight players last Monday in many strange and unique ways — but it retained all but one starter.
Now the initial sting of the most shocking day in Real Salt Lake history has died down somewhat, after fans cried foul when veterans Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola were unloaded to the New York Red Bulls in what amounted to a salary dump.
RSL received about $1 million in allocation money in the deal, according to soccerbyives.net, which first broke the story.
In essence, the club was just getting warmed up — although Olave’s departure didn’t mean as much as some might think.
The center back had battled injuries throughout the better portion of the past two seasons — and hadn’t hit full stride since 2011, the same year RSL marched to the CONCACAF Champions League final.
It happens with players and for Olave — who is now past 30 years of age — his time at RSL was at its end, though his time with the club was indeed glorious.
The club seemingly had already made plans to replace him with Chris Schuler — and had even picked up Kwame Watson-Siriboe as insurance.
Watson-Siriboe filled in admirably while Schuler battled his own nagging injury — and RSL moved on.
Though the defense allowed 35 goals — one fewer than last season — RSL won the most games in club history.
Olave ended up being the only defender Real Salt Lake moved on deal day, as the club retained goalkeeper Nick Rimando, and defenders Nat Borchers, along with Schuler and Watson-Siriboe and re-signed wingers Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran.
“Thank you for all the nice messages concerning my re-signing with RSL. My best best years are ahead of me, and I am delighted to pledge them to this club, this city and all of our fantastic supporters,” said Beltran on Twitter.
But in terms of the midfield, RSL unloaded several players, including Will Johnson, the club’s fiery unofficial leader from the Great White North who had apparently professed a preference for Portland in passing.
So off went the Canadian international to the Timbers in what also amounted to a salary dump — as RSL marched on without three of its best players from its 2009 MLS Cup champion/CONCACAF Champions League finalist and at the end of the day’s business had $1.5 million more to spend.
Diehards flipped their lids, going ballistic on Facebook and wondering what in the world general manager Garth Lagerwey was thinking.
The midfield looked to be in disarray, as Jonny Steele would soon be sent packing as well, along with forwards Paulo Junior, Kyle Reynish and Emiliano Bonfigli — all released by the club.
If you were counting at home, that would be both wing midfielders gone, leaving an aging Ned Grababoy and battle-tested Kyle Beckerman in the center of the park — and a slew of youthful options on the wings.
That said, it’s doubtful that any combination of David Viana, Sebastian Velasquez, Luis Gil, or Enzo Martinez will pay dividends as high as Johnson and Steele, who this year alone combined for five goals — while the four the club did retain had just one goal between them.
What’s more was that Javier Morales hadn’t been signed yet — and as of press time it was still up in the air whether he’d re-sign with RSL — or play in Mexico as reported.
Losing Morales would mean that RSL might have to shy from playing in its preferred diamond 4-4-2 formation — and revert to a 4-3-3.
And with Morales playing nearly a full season in 2012, scoring three goals and nine assists losing him is an option RSL fans don’t want to think about.
Luis Gil — who scored just once in 1,610 minutes played — is not ready for such an attack-minded role game in and game out — at least that’s how it looked in 2012. Yordany Alvarez is like Gil in that he’s young and untested.
Playing Beckerman as the lone center mid in a 4-3-3 is something with which RSL has flirted — but has seen limited results.
Beckerman did lead his team in minutes played — though even his results were less impressive than in 2011, scoring four goals and assisting on four others. He also received several callups to the U.S. national team and while that is a noteworthy accomplishment it is also disruptive.
And with Morales’ RSL future still in doubt as of December 10, what does a squad without Javi — and potentially Kyle for a number of games — mean for Real Salt Lake?
Just ask a team that didn’t score one goal in over 480 minutes of play in its final five games.
Some put the blame on the forwards — but it is the midfield that gets them the ball. Does getting rid of Johnson and Steele mean that RSL has solved its attacking woes from a midfield perspective? Absolutely not.
But few combinations at forward worked, either, with the exception of one, Espindola — whom RSL has now traded for what is essentially allocation money.
Espindola had his best overall season in Utah in 2012 and even showed he knew how to pass the ball to teammates — instead of doing his usual routine of going at defenders one-on-one, whiffing the ball well wide of the goal, and launching into a hissy fit when things didn’t go his way.
His behavior over the years was probably one of several reasons he was traded for cash — but does RSL have anyone to replace a guy who scored nine goals and had seven assists?
They tried Justin Braun, but the hometown product who was bright with Chivas USA and Montreal — never panned out.
Now with the release of Paulo Junior and Emiliano Bonfigli the club literally has no strike partner to pair with Alvaro Saborio.
What the club has attempted to find with any combination of Espindola, Braun and Bonfigli — was the speed and precision it has lacked since Robbie Findley left.
When Findley’s contract wasn’t picked up by Real Salt Lake following the 2010 season, the club parted ways with a player who scored an average of eight goals per season in four seasons — but who more importantly appeared in over 100 games during that period.
What ironic is that’s where Saborio came into the picture in 2010, scoring 12 goals in his first season with the club — making Findley seem expendable.
In all actuality, Findley wasn’t — and RSL was never the same from an attacking standpoint.
Then there was Yura Movsisyan — who along with Findley and Espindola led RSL to its only MLS Cup. He was just picked up by Spartak Moscow Sunday for $9.7 million — in what is reportedly the second-most lucrative transfer ever by a U.S. player.
Thus far that complement to Saborio hasn’t been found. But with $1.5 million or more in salary cap room the club now has enough to go out and find a proven striker — as well as lock down Morales.
Should Morales choose to leave, however, the club’s options become far more daunting — for it would not only have to find a forward, it would need a creative midfielder as well. .
To the club’s credit it handed all eight departures with class and aplomb. But should this mad experiment of sorts go badly, there won’t be much else to do — except make adjustments from the top on down.
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