As Real Salt Lake’s season came to a close in disappointing fashion last year I wondered if it would be their last serious run at a championship for a while. I knew that changes had to be made to the lineup, for no other reason than the fact that RSL didn’t make it to champions’ league. That cost them a substantial amount of revenue, dramatically hurting the organizations bottom line.
When the rumors started floating around at who would be traded or let go I was shocked. Three of the most valuable pieces of Real’s starting 11 where mentioned heavily. I thought there was no way that Garth Lagerway would move that many crucial players in such short order. A little less than 48 hours after I heard the rumors, Will Johnson, Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave were gone. As a season ticket holder I was less than thrilled. I was already locked into my tickets for this season and I wasn’t looking forward to the changes. When more and more players were not resigned the feeling got worse. My wife and I even thought about trying to get a refund for our Tickets. How in the world would Real Salt Lake replace so many players in one off season? How do you manage to have only one forward with any kind of experience left on your roster?
The two things that I should’ve remembered through this whole dark offseason is what kind of talent evaluator GM Garth Lagerwey is and how good a coach Jason Kreis has become. I knew very little about the acquisitions that Lagerwey had made other than Robbie Findley. I didn’t want to see Findley back here. I wasn’t a fan of his game the first time around and thought there was no way he would be a fit now. Most of the other players had never even crossed my radar before (I’m guessing Plata never had just because of his diminutive stature), and looking at them I thought RSL was in serious trouble. Especially since most of the new players acquired were brought in for next to nothing. Khari Stephenson was released by San Jose and not taken in either round of the re-entry draft. Joao Plata was traded for a second round pick in 2015. Devon Sandoval was himself the 29th pick in the 2nd round of the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. Lovel Palmer was a stage two pick in the re-entry draft after the Portland Timbers declined his option. Josh Saunders was a camp invitee after his contract ended with the L.A. Galaxy. Olmes Garcia was purchased from Quindío of the Columbian First Division. Carlos Salcedo was already in the organization as a member of the RSL-Arizona Academy. This group of (what appeared to be rag tag) newcomers didn’t seem to be anything but the start of a long rebuilding process.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that after the first half of the schedule that RSL would be atop the table in the Western Conference. I thought they might be able to fight for the last playoff spot if the ball bounced right for the Claret and Cobalt but nothing more. I was dead wrong.
Everything seems to have fallen into place for Real to this point. After a slow start to the season, RSL has been on a fantastic run, winning 7 of their last 9 MLS matches. As for the new comers, Lagerwey appears to have found more than a few young stars in the making, and every move Kreis makes seems to work out wonderfully. Stephenson has been great all season in the midfield while Sandoval, Garcia, Plata and Findley have taken their turns making things happen up top. Salcedo and Palmer have been solid on the back line and Saunders is the consummate professional. It’s always nice to know you have a capable backup keeper in case anything ever happens to Nick Rimando. Kyle Reynish seemed like a deer in head lights when he got on the pitch last season and that worried me to no end.
While fans still miss the hustle of Will Johnson, the antics of Fabian Espindola and chanting “Olave says no” whenever Jamison made a great defensive play, they all know the future is very bright, thanks to the genius of Garth Lagerwey and Jason Kreis.