RSL 2014 Season Preview
Can Real Salt Lake translate its late-season run from 2013 into a successful 2014 campaign?
That's the question being asked of new head coach Jeff Cassar as he prepares a seasoned RSL squad for the upcoming MLS season.
While RSL's roster is remarkably similar from the side that reached the 2013 MLS Cup final, which the club hopes will provide consistency and familiarity, the squad's age is beginning to cause some concern. Seven of Real's starters (Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman, Nat Borchers, Ned Grabavoy, Chris Wingert, Alvaro Saborio, and Nick Rimando) are over the age of 30, including 3 out of the 4 likely to start in midfield. Injuries are also taking a toll on the team's depth early on, with Chris Schuler, Devon Sandoval, and Robbie Findley currently all rehabbing injuries.
There aren't many new faces to integrate into the squad, although homegrown player Jordan Allen and off-season signee Luke Mulholland will be competing for minutes with the first team. First-round draft pick Ryan Neil was released earlier this week, leaving Joey Dillon as the only draftee to remain with Real ahead of the season opener at LA on Saturday.
When asked about the team's potential in a Reddit AMA earlier this week, RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey said, "On paper, from a talent perspective we should be as good or better. We added two players to our top 18 in Allen and Mulholland, the half dozen kids under 23 who played for us regularly last year now have a year in the system under their belts and we were able to retain our veteran core. So long as our young talent can take some miles off the vets during the regular season we will hopefully be fine and reach the playoffs again."
That young talent includes the likes of Luis Gil, Joao Plata, Olmes Garcia, and Sebastian Velasquez. Gil's development may be key to RSL's season -- he's added more facets to his game every year, but needs to grow into a more consistent force in the midfield, especially if he is expected to take over more playmaking duties from Morales.
Plata and Garcia will also be expected to contribute more goals this season, particularly since Saborio will almost certainly miss a portion of the season while at the World Cup with the Costa Rican national team. Plata's first opportunity to do so may come this weekend, as he is likely to start up front with Saborio while Findley is out.
Cassar and his staff will clearly need to find a balance in the squad, particularly if RSL hopes to challenge for multiple trophies again in 2014. Keeping the older veterans healthy and fresh throughout the long MLS season while giving the younger players opportunities to grow will be critical to the team's success both this season and for the long-term future of the club.
As usual, Real will start the season on the road, with matches at LA and San Jose before returning to Rio Tinto Stadium for another matchup with the Galaxy on March 22. May looks to be a strong test for the team, with matches away at Chicago, Houston, and Seattle, along with two home matches sandwiched in between. The final stretch of the season could be telling for RSL's Western Conference hopes, with two matches against Chivas USA, one with Portland, and one with San Jose on the docket.
3 Hopes and One Fear for Real Salt Lake
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