Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Getting to the Core of It

There has been alot of talk about keeping "the core" intact during this offseason. In the abstract, this is a very agreeable idea. It's no secret that many professional franchises have success just by building a strong history, continuity and tradition. Out of this often times comes a belief in oneself, and a corresponding doubt deep in the mind of the opponent.

Sometimes this "core" comes from a common coaching staff, group of players or it can even come from the management team and overall philosophy. We have an example of this in our community with the Utah Jazz under the long tenure of Jerry Sloan. Last season Jason Kreis pointed to the Houston and New England franchises as the shining stars of the MLS in this regard (although New England ended up having a down year).

Garth Lagerway has frequently pointed to this "core" as a reason to have confidence in this version of RSL despite the lack of an offseason splash of acquisitions. In the video clip posted yesterday he also reminds us that because of this core we are far ahead of where we were as a team at this time last season.

So who is this core? I'm sure everyone will have a differing opinion on this, but here are my thoughts:

Yura Movsisyan: He's young, has been eratic, and at times plays with the ball too much. So why is he in my core? He proved to be a crucial part of the team's attack down the stretch last season. He had 7 goals and an assist in the final 11 games that Real Salt Lake played last season. While this may have been partially just a hot streak, I believe that it was representative of what he can do. He will be greatly needed in what otherwise could turn out to be an anemic offense.

Javier Morales: The motor behind it all. Likely the teams greatest player. If you want to know how valuable he is, watch the final match against Colorado from last season and see how dreadful the team looked when Pablo Mastroeni managed to bottle him up. 'Nuf said.

Will Johnson: an up and coming young player that Lagerway has tagged as "a future all-star". His value to the team comes partially in the fact that he works so well with Morales.

Kyle Beckerman: When Beckerman shows that intensity that he often does, he can change the tone of a game. This disappeared at times last season and the team suffered. I'm no longer convinced that he's at the top of the talent chart for the team, but his hustle, attitude and leadership are invaluable to the team. And it's the reason he is called "captain" for RSL.

Nat Borchers: Anyone who stands behind Nick Rimando in the RSL defensive end, understands the value that Borchers provides as an organizer. This is likely part of the reason that he was named Defensive Player of the Year for the team. He is rarely caught out of position.

Jamison Olave: There are actually reasons to leave him off this list (I know, not a popular comment to make among RSL fans). His judgement was poor at times last season. He took unnecessary risks including one that cost the team in the Western Conference Finals, and I feared him giving up a PK during many points last season (luckily this never happened). However, his raw ability just makes up for all of that. I think another year with the team will do him wonders, and his tandem with Borchers helps solidifies one of the stronger central defenses in the league.

Chris Wingert: Again, as a pure outside defender I'm not sure of his qualifications among the league's elite. He sometimes struggles with individual marking, can get beaten by speedy wing play and can get caught up-field at times. However, his wing-back role on this team is invaluable. He makes well-timed overlap runs, gets off great crosses, and his versatility is a huge asset. He is also coming off of a fantastic season. He's also a leader for this team.

Nick Rimando: I thought he had a phenomenal 2007 season, and an above average 2008. I'm not sure he'd make a consensus opinion for a top 10 keeper in the league. He can get beaten - especially up high. He should also be held responsible for a couple of high-profile mis-communications with defenders last season. However, he is the glue that helps hold the defense together. He's a clear-headed veteran, who organizes his defense well and rarely is caught out of position. He makes 'em beat him.

Jason Kreis: Although still relatively new to the coaching profession, there is no mistaking his ability to pull the team together last season. His three mantra's from last season: 1) No undue pressure on ourselves; 2) the team is the star; and 3) Fortune favors the bold hit just the spot for this young crew. Quite simply - he had this team focused last season and at the end of the season they clearly believed in themselves. If he can keep this team belief momentum rolling, we'll likely be in for a good season.

Notable exceptions: Andy Williams - this one was tough. In many ways he's the embodiment of this franchise. At this point in his career, I just think he won't play enough to be considered "core". Clearly a valuable piece of the puzzle. Robbie Findley - see Andy Williams. Also, we haven't seen the consistent scoring ability that we need from him. Ian Joy - a nice leader. His game picked up at the end of last season. He began to pick his spots to push forward more. Needs to prove a little more to me before he can be classified as core.

So how does this "core" stack up? I'd say that it's right there with the best in the league. The question in my mind is - does the team have the depth, and complimentary players it needs to improve on last seasons 10-10-10 record? What say you?