This is the time of year optimism prevails throughout Major League Soccer’s now 14 clubs. However in the case of Real Salt Lake, a major overhaul of the squad has given the team real reason to be looking forward t0 2008. The 2005 expansion club has yet to make the MLS Playoffs in its three seasons a record that pales in comparison to its expansion cousin Chivas USA who has made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. I had an opportunity to spend much of last week in training camp with Real Salt Lake.
“We’re definetly upbeat” states General Manager Garth Lagerway, who added the number of additions since the end of last season. Lagerway states that about a third of Salt Lake’s roster has been overturned since the end of last season. Beyond simply bringing in foreign players like most MLS teams this closed season, RSL has brought in two Americans who were plying their trade in Europe: Ian Joy and Nat Borchers. “Our number one priority is to get veteran American players in” Lagerway stated in reference to the signing of both Joy and Borchers.
Coach Jason Kreis stated ” we feel good, we feel we have a number of good players, a higher number of good players than last year.” In discussing the late season additions last year of Fabian Espindola, Mathias Mantilla, Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman, Kreis mentioned it was has goal to become a more possession oriented side. “We don’t want to be chasing teams like DC United and Houston for 90 minutes a game,” he added also mentioning that since taking over from John Ellinger last season it was important to him to make the team more rhythm oriented and a more technical side.
This season, the biggest foreign signing thus far for RSL is Mathias Cordoba who comes to the club from Argentinos Juniors of Argentina’s Premier Division. At 23, Cordoba is the sort of young technically gifted Latin midfielder MLS clubs should be staking out in mass. Salt Lake’s midfield is crowded but the two genuine MLS veterans in the bunch Andy Williams, one of MLS’ top attacking midfielders a few years ago with Miami, New England and Chicago as well as Kyle Beckerman are both ready for the new season. When I spoke to Williams last week he was embracing his role on the Salt Lake team as a veteran even though the new additions meant he is playing out wide more than he is accustomed to. Beckerman stated “everyone is really looking forward to the new season.”
Goalkeeper is a position Salt Lake doesn’t have to worry about. Nick Rimando has been one of the best in MLS for years now, Chris Seitz is coming off a great U-20 World Cup for the US, and second year keeper Kyle Reynish has been impressive in camp. ” We got Nicky coming of an outstanding year, we’ve got Chris Seitz the Olympic Team Goalkeeper who has matured and is coming along well and Kyle Reynish who has improved leaps and bounds,” said Jeff Cassar, RSL’s Goalkeeper coach. Clearly this is not a problem for Salt Lake and the truth be told last season RSL earned several points simply because of Rimando’s brilliance.
The operative word for Real Salt Lake is optimism. The team has filled out well after chasing players, matches and a new stadium deal for the first three seasons of the club’s life. As 2008 begins and Salt Lake looks to moving into its permanent home later this year, the club looks deeper, more technical and stronger than ever before. For much more on Real Salt Lake listen to this week’s American Soccer Show at 2pm ET/11am PT Tuesday on CSRN.