Since John Ellinger was replaced by Jason Kreis two and a half seasons ago, RSL has been anything but predictable. This season the Utah club was being tipped by many to win the Western Conference, but instead have been fighting to stay relevant in the grueling MLS playoff race throughout the summer.
Staying consistent in MLS is tougher than in any other league in world football. Fans often complain about inconsistency from clubs, but MLS is in fact a tougher league to maintain strong performances in than the English Premier League, a favorite of many American fans and pundits.
It has been argued often that the MLS season is such a grind and the league so hype-competitive that the sides cannot compete in other competitions. This view would help explain RSL’s roller coaster ride the past two and a half seasons.
Real Salt Lake has found out how balanced and difficult MLS is this season. Despite having an incredibly deep squad that features several players that are among the league’s best at their respective positions, the team has struggled.
But in August, RSL surged thanks largely to its defenders, particularly Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers.
Olave is one of the best defenders in MLS and is signed with the club and league through 2012. Borchers is a veteran of the USMNT whose stint in Europe has made him a more complete player with tactical and positioning sense he lacked in his first MLS stint. Chris Wingert at left back has also had a good run of form.
The defense has carried Real Salt Lake from the depths of despair to within an ear shot of the playoffs.
Helping the cause was the signing of Pablo Campos as well as the emerging superstar talent, Robbie Findley. Findley is scoring goals at the type of frenzied pace that should make Alexi Lalas wince on the ESPN set: he after all traded Findley whose talent was unmistakable when he played for the Galaxy.
Nicky Rimando has been among the best MLS keepers this decade. The UCLA and USYNT/USMNT vet has won the Supporters Shield with Miami, the MLS Cup with DC United and was within a few unlucky bounces of winning the Western Conference last year with Salt Lake.
Will Johnson’s play in the midfield gives Canadian fans hope of another quality element, helping in 2014 qualifying, while Andy Williams personal battle as his wife fights a horrible disease has captivated all of MLS.
Real Salt Lake is without a doubt a team to watch closely. Jason Kreis looked out of his depth earlier in the year, leading many including myself (on an ESPN 710 program in LA with Dave Denholm) to call on Dave Checketts to make a change.
Turns out Checketts, one of the top sports executives on the planet knew what he was doing all along.