We are nearing the end of our Three Questions series, and I hope you have found it insightful and useful during the offseason. We’ll end the series tomorrow and Tuesday with the MLS Cup participants, prior to the 2012 Superdraft.
Today in addition to Sporting Kansas City we’ll turn our attention to Real Salt Lake, who going into last season looked to challenge Los Angeles (and Seattle potentially) for the Supporters Shield. But, as we all know, they never fully recovered from the Champions League final loss and while they made the Western Conference finals, it was after an up-and-down season where they never dominated for stretches like many thought they would. Injuries played a role, but how will their 2011 season influence 2012? Let’s take a look at some offseason questions that will dictate whether or not Real Salt Lake has reached its peak or the best is yet to come:
1. Can they adequately replace their depth?
The incredible Real Salt Lake fan site RSL Soapbox has a great breakdown of what exactly the team has lost so far this offseason: in the last two months the team has lost 6,700 first team minutes, 4 goals, and 12 assists. These come from players like Robbie Russell (DC) and Jean Alexandre (SJ) who were traded, Colleen Warner (Montreal) and Arturo Alvarez (Chivas) who were drafted, and Andy WIlliams who retired. All of these are replaceable players, but with so many players being shifted off the rolls the team is losing some serious depth, depth that was key to them succeeding in multiple competitions despite injuries and schedule congestion. In addition to another appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League later this season, the team will lose some key players for Olympic duty, likely including captain Kyle Beckerman.
The positive to these trades is that RSL has received some draft picks so they can use those picks for depth. The team can also look internationally, something that it has done successfully to find good young talent. How quickly these younger/new MLS players can adjust to the league and contribute will be critical to this team.
2. How will RSL beef up their midfield?
A number of the players mentioned above were contributors to the midfield; for example, Andy Williams was a winger the team could depend on to play well during his starts. The team has made some moves to secure this part of the team: it extended Ned Grabavoy’s contract and is working to extend Yordany Alvarez’s contract. In addition, they have some young players like Luis Gil who could contribute more with more playing time. But the team does need to do a little shopping, and how much money they have free to spend will be important to beefing up that midfield.
3. Are Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio healthy enough to play at their peaks (or close to it)?
Javier Morales’ gruesome injury was part of an early season MLS trend of key stars going down with serious injuries, and his team certainly missed his goal scoring. However, when he returned, the team was in a slump and his play could not bring them out of it. A healthy, back-to-100% Morales is the kind of player who can help carry a slumping team so how healthy he is and back to his previous form is critical to this team.
Another player who failed to inspire last season was Alvaro Saborio, who took 3/4ths of the season to round into form coming off his own injury. Although his final numbers looked good, his overall body of work was not up to his previous standards. Again, a fully effective and healthy Saborio makes this team that much harder to beat. The health of these two players could make the different between wild card contenders and MLS Cup contenders.