The off-season is underway, and it is an unusually busy one for Real Salt Lake. Thanks to the condensed schedule (caused by playing in MLS Cup), there is a lot to do and little time to get it done.
The highest priority for the club is to sign a new coach. Either Robin Fraser or Jeff Cassar will do. I’ve made clear that I prefer Fraser, but I think either will be just fine moving forward. But after that… what does Real Salt Lake need to do this off-season?
Garth Lagerwey’s contract is up at the end of 2014, so that is priority number 2. Dell Loy Hansen just paid the price for delaying an appropriate contract offer for Jason. Hopefully, he won’t make the same mistake again. It is time for Garth to get paid handsomely for the work he has done and will continue to do in the Salt Lake front office.
As for on-field needs, Salt Lake has very few of them. The squad last season was one of the youngest and deepest in the league. In other words, it is bound to get better simply by staying the same. For that reason, RSL has only parted ways with Josh Saunders, Khari Stephenson, Yordany Alvarez, and Brandon McDonald. Another player or two might go via trade; however, those moves are going to be for players who are very low on the depth chart.
Even with those already departing, little needs to be done.
Salt Lake carried four goalkeepers last season, despite three probably being plenty. With Jeff Attinella stepping in as the second goalkeeper and Lalo Fernandez taking the number three spot, Salt Lake is set in the net. There is no immediate need for a Saunders replacement. If Salt Lake sees someone it likes, the side might go find a young prospect. However, this isn’t a necessity.
Brandon McDonald was only brought in to be an extra body after Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe both suffered long-term injuries. That was before Carlos Salcedo emerged as a real option. Even without McDonald, RSL heads into 2014 with Borchers, Schuler, Watson-Siriboe, Salcedo and Maund under contract. That is more than enough.
The loss of Yordany Alvarez means Salt Lake currently does not have a back-up holding midfielder (other than sliding Ned Grabavoy back there). This will be a critical position as Kyle Beckerman is likely to miss substantial time at the World Cup. While Ned can do a good job, it is time for the RSL brass to figure out who the eventual Kyle replacement is and begin grooming him into that role. Fortunately, they have a few years to train whomever they pick.
Stephenson’s departure is less concerning, though it does bring up a good point with the Salt Lake midfield. It is deep. Really deep. Good players will struggle to find minutes in it. With Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy, Luis Gil, Kyle Beckerman, Sebastian Velasquez, and Cole Grossman all coming back, finding midfield minutes with RSL is going to be a difficult task. It gets even worse if you realize that going to a 4-5-1 probably puts Joao Plata and Olmes Garcia in play for midfield spots.
Still, Salt Lake really needs to find a Javier Morales replacement in the next year or two. The Argentine magician is getting old and his play could drop off at some point soon. Last season saw Mauro Rosales and Dwayne De Rosario hit that wall after impressive outings the year before. Salt Lake needs to start preparing someone who can take Javier’s spot when Father Time finally catches up with him. Bringing in more young, talented attacking midfielders and seeing who can assume that role is the best way to go. I’d suggest bringing in 2-3 for training camp (via draft, signing, etc.).
Finally, Real Salt Lake has numerous international slots to use. Those slots are precious as they allow the squad to bring in more attacking-playmaker types. I suspect RSL will be pulling in a few international players to fill these midfield roles.
For quick reference, here is my checklist for Garth Lagerwey, Bill Manning, and Dell Loy Hansen this off-season. It is short, but each piece is critical for the future success of the franchise.
- Hire coach
- Re-sign Lagerwey
- New holding midfielder (high quality)
- 2-3 additional midfielders (use international spots)
- Replace any other departing players