Saturday, February 28, 2009

RSL’s Offseason: aka Two Sides of the Same Coin

When entering the offseason there were a couple of objectives that Real Salt Lake had stated. First, the team wanted to keep intact the core team from their successful 2008 playoff run. Mission accomplished. Second, they wanted to add an attacking player (or two) and a left-sided player in the midfield. Mission accomplished…well, sort of.

The team did lose Dema Kovalenko, Kenny Deuchar, Fabian Espindola and Nate Sturgis in the offseason. Kovalenko was primarily a casualty of his high salary. Espindola received a better offer in Venezuela as a hired gun. Sturgis was picked up by Seattle in the expansion draft. And Deuchar came off of a disappointing 2008, and left for Hamilton in the Scottish Premier League. Only Kovalenko played a meaningful role down the stretch last season, but Espindola was the player lost who held the most promise.

To this point the only official addition is rookie Jean Alexandre who has already signed with the league. The team brought in an interesting prospect in Argentine striker Luis Escalada who had a blistering two-year period in 2006/2007. However, he came in out of shape and has struggled to catch up throughout training camp.

The team also has been hot on the heals of Dutch midfielder Rachid El Khalifi who currently plies his trade with SC Cambuur in the Jupiler league (Dutch Eerste Divisie). RSL’s initial offer to El Khalifi was reportedly rejected, but the player has indicated that he is expecting another offer next week. El Khalifi is a left-sided winger who is known for his passing and crossing ability.

So how does this off-season stack up for the team? Has it been a success? Has it been a disappointment?

Argument for Success

Garth Lagerway recently argued that this offseason has been successful because all of the key pieces of the team remain intact. Some players were let go to make salary cap room to accommodate the long-term signings of Jamison Olave and Javier Morales. The argument is that they are merely searching for some role players and added depth, but the core remains intact.

In addition, the rationale is that the team was only beaten twice in their last 12 matches prior to their season ending loss at the hands of the NYRB at home. This argument continues that the team has been working together in this offseason with a clear direction of what they want to accomplish in the upcoming season and this should be a huge advantage over the start of 2008 when the team was still searching for the right combinations.

Spin? Of course.

Argument for Disappointment

Since a stated goal was to add a striker and a left-sided midfielder, some would argue that this offseason has been disappointing. First, neither type of player has been signed at this point. Second, although the team is still after El Khalifi – he may not be here in time to have a positive impact at the start of the season. Many RSL fans are licking their chops imagining him on the left, and moving Will Johnson to his more natural right side. Third, Escalada’s first impression with the club was one of disappointment. Even if does end up signing with the team, this does not give RSL fans a great deal of comfort at this point (and won’t until he proves an ability to score goals for us).

Another reason for disappointment is a psychological one. Fans did not enter the offseason expecting a large number of additions. Most assumed that 2 or 3 new players would join this team. However, at one point during the offseason the team had several interesting prospects in camp including El Khalifi, Escalada, Jorginho Paulista, Alexander Viveros and Kennedy Owusu-Ansah. This caused the minds of RSL fans to race as they projected what each of these players could do for the team based on their individual resumes.

Unnecessarily pessimistic? Of course.

So what’s the reality? The reality is that only time will answer how successful this offseason has been. Several things will color the evaluation: 1) If Escalada and El Khalifi end up signing with the team; 2) If those two end up as starters; 3) If other additions join before the season starts; and 4) How well that core ends up playing together in their second season.

My two concerns coming into the offseason still remain. Who is going to be the quality finisher that we need to pair alongside Yura Movsisyan? And who does this team have to provide additional width on the now wider pitch at Rio Tinto Stadium and on the road in the bigger parks of the league? I’m hoping that these concerns are fully addressed prior to the start of the season.

What’s your assessment? Share your thoughts?