Blog

jeremy horton

14 March 11:23 am

I'm convinced that true rivalries must have more than just a geographic component. There needs to be a strong element of competitiveness between the rivals, and the nail-biting nature of the games between Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids have added to the richness of the Rocky Mountain Cup. There have been so many great moments in the Rocky Mountain Cup over the years; bulletin board material, last-minute game-winning goals, big-time saves, questionable calls, questionable no-calls, red cards, and skirmishes, just to name a few.

My favorite RMC moment – so far – was the RSL-Colorado game on Oct. 24, 2009, the final day of regular season play that year. It wasn't so memorable because of the game itself – RSL won 3-0 – but everything else that went on that night. Let me set the stage for you.

Going into the final day of the 2009 season, one playoff spot was up for grabs. As the day's games kicked off, that final spot belonged to none other than the Rapids who were sitting on 40 points. Right on their heels were FC Dallas, D.C. United, and Toronto FC, each with 39 points. RSL was the final team with a mathematical chance at the playoff spot with 37 points. In order for RSL to make the playoffs, they would need to leapfrog the three aforementioned teams and beat the Rapids. A win by either Dallas, D.C., or Toronto would automatically eliminate RSL.

That afternoon, before heading to Rio Tinto, RSL fans eagerly tuned into the early game on the East Coast: Toronto at New York. We were able to sit back and relax after not too long thanks to a brilliant showing by New York. The Red Bulls scored early and often, thrashing Toronto 5-0 to eliminate TFC from playoff contention at 39 points. One down, three to go.

Then it was off to Rio Tinto where, coincidentally, the final three games that would determine RSL's fate (Colorado at RSL, Dallas at Seattle, D.C. at Kansas City) all kicked off at roughly the same time. Facing a must-win situation, RSL came out flying. Robbie Findley hit pay-dirt twice in the first half hour, ending the drama early as it became apparent that Colorado didn't have the horses to equalize on this night. RSL went on to win 3-0, putting them level with Colorado at 40 points but ahead based on tiebreakers. Two down, two to go.

While RSL was putting a bow on their game, things were getting interesting elsewhere. Dallas gave us an early scare at Seattle when Atiba Harris put them up 1-0, but the expansion Sounders scored twice early in the second half and hung on to win, knocking Dallas out of playoff contention. Three down, one to go.

The D.C. at Kansas City game was going along fine at 1-1 with RSL owning the tiebreaker over D.C. Then suddenly, it looked like the clock had struck midnight and RSL would turn back into a pumpkin - Julius James put D.C. ahead in the 82nd minute. From then on it was all Kansas City on the offensive, but it appeared D.C. would hold on. At this point, almost every member of the media at Rio Tinto was ignoring the final minutes of RSL's win and we were all glued to the TV watching KC and D.C. Then, in second-half stoppage time, RSL got the miracle they needed - a controversial handball gave the Wizards a penalty on the last kick of the game. Claudio Lopez buried it, ending the match 2-2 and putting RSL through to the playoffs.

Without those four matches going exactly the right way, RSL would have watched the playoffs from the couch. Instead, they went on to win MLS Cup. It was a magical night all around, and it's officially my favorite Rocky Mountain Cup game of all time.

A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM

04 March 2:29 pm

It's tough having the last game of opening weekend - you get to watch every other team's new arrivals and see who's looking good before you get to see how your own team stacks up.

Thankfully, the wait proved to be more than worth it on Sunday night as Real Salt Lake waltzed into San Jose – a team that racked up a whopping 66 points last year en route to the Supporter's Shield – and dispatched the Earthquakes 2-0.

On a weekend where several teams put up impressive displays, RSL's performance was one of the best. Here are a few players - new and old - who impressed me most in the Claret-and-Cobalt's win at San Jose:

Alvaro Saborio

Sabo was Sabo, which is exactly what you want if you're an RSL fan. While many fans spent much of the offseason wondering about getting production from the second forward, I was more worried about whether Sabo could replicate his 17-goal effort from 2012. There's a long way to go, but it's impossible to argue that Sabo isn't off to a great start.

Joao Plata

To win a tight match you need a game-changer, someone to come in and tip the contest in your favor. Sunday night the game-changer was clearly Plata.

His assist on Saborio's first goal was brilliant, featuring two perfect touches in a row (the perfect touch to settle a difficult ball, and the perfectly-weighted pass). Beyond that, Plata was active all over the field, coming back when needed to help the midfield possession game. And don't forget, the Ecuadorian international is only 21. This youngster could end up being one of RSL's biggest steals since the Kyle Beckerman trade.

Sebastian Velasquez

I thought Seba had a great preseason and I was interested to see if it would carry over to MLS play. If the San Jose game is any indication, it has. We all know that Velasquez is a real offensive talent with ankle-breaking footwork on the ball (which he used on poor Ramiro Corrales on Sunday), but where I think Seba has really stepped up his game is on the other side of the ball. Jason Kreis has high expectations for his midfielders on defense, and Velasquez appeared to meet those on Sunday, staying active and honest on defense and tracking back to the top of the box when necessary.

Luis Gil

Gil hasn't necessarily added any elements to his game this year, it just seems like he is taking it to a higher level. His movements are smoother, the timing is just a little bit better, and his confidence seems high. I guess that's what carrying the U.S. U-20 National Team to a World Cup berth will do for you. His combination play with Robbie Findley which led to a left-footed Cruyff turn and a shot that produced Jon Busch's best save of the night was a thing of beauty that belies Luis' age.

Kyle Beckerman

We've been watching Captain Kyle for a long time now (300 matches, to be exact), so how is it that he continues to surprise us with something we've never seen before? His no-look pass to set up Sabo's second goal looked like something from a great NBA point guard's highlight reel. Aside from that, Beckerman was his usual efficient self, completing a game-high 46 passes and breaking up San Jose's midfield.

Nick Rimando

How fitting is it that, on the night that Rimando earned his 100th MLS clean sheet, he turned in a textbook shutout performance. Rimando only made two saves on the night, but his reaction save on Chris Wondolowski in the first half was top-drawer goalkeeping. And therein is the essence of keeping a clean sheet: You don't have to make 15 saves, but you must stay focused enough to make the one you have to. On top of that, Rimando was a good coach to his young back line, helping them sort out their issues on the occasions where they lost track of Wondolowski.

A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM

23 February 9:19 am

With just over a week to go before starting their 2013 MLS campaign, Real Salt Lake's opening-day roster is finally taking shape as the Claret-and-Cobalt have officially added GK Josh Saunders and MF Khari Stephenson to the mix. In an offseason where RSL brass clearly focused on adding young talent, Stephenson and Saunders bring a healthy dose of veteran leadership and experience to the team. Let's take a look at who these players are, what they bring to the table, and what roles they could fill throughout the year.

Stephenson is a 32-year-old attacking midfielder who has been playing professionally since he was picked 28th overall in the 2003 MLS SuperDraft by the Fire. After a brief stop in Kansas City, he decided to try his luck overseas and spent several years in Scandinavia with a couple of clubs. In 2010 he came back to MLS with San Jose and spent a total of three seasons there. He was a regular for the 'Quakes, appearing in 69 matches over three seasons and helping them win the Supporter's Shield last season.

The first thing you notice about Stephenson is that he doesn't look like an attacking mid - without knowing his position, you would probably guess he's a #9 or a center back. That's because, at 6'2", he towers over most creative mids. His size means he's difficult to separate from the ball, something that's not a strength of most MLS #10's. He has the good vision and solid technical ability requisite for his position, and he is willing and able to shoot from distance. We got our first taste of that a few nights ago as he struck a well-hit game-winner from 18 yards.

Stephenson is a versatile player who should be able to play three of the four midfield spots for RSL, and even fill in at striker in a pinch. He could be one of the first players off the bench for Jason Kreis, especially in matches where RSL is leading and needs to salt the game away. His strength on the ball and intelligent possession play should make him a valuable asset in those situations.

The 31-year-old Saunders is a guy who is well known by RSL fans - it was he who came into the 2009 MLS Cup final for L.A. in place of Donovan Ricketts. Of course, RSL came away victorious via penalties in that match, but it's hard to fault Saunders who saved two of seven RSL penalties. If it weren't for an even better performance from Nick Rimando, Saunders would have walked home a champion and a hero to L.A. fans. He didn't have to wait long, though; by 2011 Ricketts was gone and Saunders was the go-to guy, backstopping them to consecutive MLS Cup wins in 2011 and 2012.

Josh Saunders is your prototypical goalkeeper - huge (6'4"), athletic, and a vocal organizer of defenses. But what you have to love about Saunders - and no doubt appeals to Kreis too - is Saunders is a winner. As a pro he's been successful at the highest levels. Of course, soccer is a team sport and he's been fortunate to be on some great teams, but don't discount the confidence and attitude you get from a proven winner.

Saunders will be the clear No. 2 goalkeeper behind Nick Rimando. Obviously we hope Rimando stays healthy enough to play all year, but there are no guarantees, plus Rimando may miss some time if he gets called up by the U.S. national team for World Cup Qualifiers or this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup. I would expect Saunders to get a handful of games this year in relief of Rimando. The addition of Saunders makes RSL's goalkeeper position the strongest in MLS in my opinion. How many other teams can say their backup GK has played in three MLS Cup finals, and won two of them?

How much of an impact Khari Stephenson and Josh Saunders make remains to be seen, but they will bring some needed experience and veteran savvy to this very young RSL squad.

A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM

21 February 2:15 pm

The most-discussed acquisition of the RSL offseason came to a head this past week as the identity of the unsigned forward nicknamed "Striker X" was revealed to be Olmes Garcia, a 20-year-old who last played for Deportes Quindio in Colombia's First Division. With the anticipation surrounding Garcia's arrival, the next question Salt Lake fans should have is, when can we expect him to take the pitch? Will he contribute right away or is he more of a project?

The answer may be a bit of both. We already saw Garcia get some minutes on Wednesday against the Revolution in the Desert Diamond Cup, but the answer to when he can expect to get meaningful league playing time is a bit more complicated. Garcia has some things working in his favor and some things working against him...see below.

Working in Garcia's favor:

  • Size - Olmes is 6-foot and is supposedly strong in the air, meaning he should have the size and aerial prowess to fill in for fellow forward Alvaro Saborio.
  • Speed - His raw speed will enable him to play alongside Saborio. On Wednesday, RSL GM Garth Lagerwey told Bill Riley and Hans Olsen on ESPN 700 radio that it was Garcia's speed that first put him on RSL's radar. "He has tons of speed," said Lagerwey. "That speed is key to opening up the field."
  • Pro experience - It's odd to say experience is an asset when talking about a 20-year-old, but the fact is Garcia has been a pro for two years. He’s been playing - and scoring - in the Colombian First Division, a league that's comparable to MLS. His acclimation to the rigors of MLS should be less than a player coming from a lower division or college soccer.
  • System - 'OG' is fortunate that his previous employer played a 4-1-2-1-2 that's similar to RSL’s system. That could help him adapt to the Claret-and-Cobalt’s style.

Working against him:

  • Age - Garcia may have more pro experience than any underage RSL player not named Luis Gil, but the fact is he is just 20. We can't call him a seasoned veteran yet.
  • Late arrival – Garcia’s late arrival in the U.S. mean that he'll end up with less than two weeks of preseason instruction. In my mind that makes him less likely to contribute right away than if he had shown up in January.
  • New environment/new language - Garcia speaks very little English and has never spent time in the United States, which could hamper his ability to integrate quickly. Lagerwey told Bill and Hans that "he's from a different culture so he's going to take some time."
  • Depth - With a complement of healthy strikers expected on opening day, the coaching staff won't be handing starting striker spots out like concert flyers. Garcia will have to earn himself a spot, and that won't be easy given the striker corps RSL has assembled.

I look at Olmes Garcia very similar to how I look at Real Salt Lake midfielder David Viana - a player with unquestionable attacking talent, but one who has to show what he's made of. I wouldn't expect to see Garcia starting anytime in the early season, but I do think he'll make meaningful contributions to RSL later in 2013.

A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM

25 January 11:41 am

Real Salt Lake began a new chapter in its history on Thursday with the announcement that RSL founder Dave Checketts sold the remainder of his stake in the team to Dell Loy Hansen, making Hansen the sole owner of RSL, Rio Tinto Stadium, and ESPN 700 radio. As I listened to the press conference, I found myself getting a bit emotional, especially as Checketts ("Uncle Dave", as he is affectionately known to fans) was speaking. For him, RSL was a labor of love. I firmly believe that Dave Checketts is the reason RSL survived its infancy. Most businesses that fail do so in their first five years, and there were a couple of times that RSL could have and would have failed if it weren't for Checketts and his sports business acumen. He wasn't the flashiest or richest owner in MLS, but he was the most savvy. In short, Dave Checketts was the right man for the job at the time. Uncle Dave, thank you for believing in all of us.

Likewise, I believe Dell Loy Hansen is the right man for the job at this time. New ownership of a sports franchise is always met with some trepidation, so let me tell you a story about Mr. Hansen that may help put your mind at ease.

It probably won't surprise you to learn that my soccer journalism gig doesn't pay all my bills, and very few of us are fortunate enough to say otherwise. As such, I have a career unrelated to soccer that helps me make ends meet. Ironically, it was my other career that led to my first meaningful conversation with Dell Loy. It was 2010 and I was doing a lot of business with one of the other businesses Dell Loy owns. The CEO of Dell Loy's business invited me to sit with him and Hansen in Hansen's suite at the next RSL game. So I decided to enjoy two hours high on the hog - I called in "sick" to my editor for that game and headed to Hansen's suite.

I had met Dell Loy before but never beyond salutations in the hallways and back rooms of the stadium. This time, as I introduced myself formally, he said "you're the journalist, aren't you? I read your stuff! Grab a plate of food and sit down...I want to talk to you." I was flattered and surprised that I was being read by a team owner. For the next half hour he grilled me on everything RSL and soccer-related. What makes RSL so good? What's the diamond midfield? What makes Jason Kreis a good coach? What does this team need to be better? What did the ref call there? How do we get the fans more involved and engaged?

Since then I've had a couple more experiences like this with Hansen. From them, I feel confident stating a few things now that he is RSL's sole owner:

  • He is a local who loves Utah and he wants to the team to succeed in Utah in spite of the challenges of being a small market.
  • He is a visionary man who knows how to grow a business on multiple fronts.
  • He knows who is customer is. The fans are what make this business tick and he knows that.
  • He has the resources and is willing to invest them in the team to make sure the product RSL delivers is top-drawer.
  • He believes in the team management and technical staff.

I'm very excited to see what unfolds in this next chapter of the Real Salt Lake story. The first eight years of RSL gave us many amazing moments, and I really believe there will be even more of them as we move into the future.

A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and covers the team for ESPN 700 AM

17 January 10:28 am

Exciting news out of the Real Salt Lake offices today as we learned that All-Star attacking midfielder Javier Morales has signed an offer to return to Salt Lake, keeping him in the Claret-and-Cobalt possibly for at least the 2013 season.

League and team policy mean that the terms of Javi's new contract haven't been made public yet - we won't get hard and fast numbers until the MLS Player's Union releases salaries later in the year - but we do know is it's an incentive-laden deal. As Morales was RSL's highest-paid player last season, the value of his new contract was the subject of much discussion this offseason, especially in light of his age (he turned 33 on Jan. 10) and the horrific ankle injury he suffered in 2011. But the reason RSL worked so hard to keep him in the fold is because they don't yet have a replacement that can bring what he brings.

Jason Kreis' diamond system revolves around a strong central midfield pairing. One reason it's been so successful is that he enjoys two of the best players in MLS at those positions. Kyle Beckerman is arguably the best defensive mid in MLS - his job (on offense) is to make simple passes with a high completion percentage, which he does. Morales' job is to make high-risk, incisive passes and spread the field.

Without an effective attacking mid, the team tends to collapse toward the middle and get bogged down because there's no space. In order to keep the width, Javi needs to touch the ball a lot - maybe every five or so passes needs to go through him - and distribute to wide players. Where Javi excels is in his vision of the field, his soccer IQ which tells him where the ball needs to go next, and his ability to put himself in places where he can touch the ball as often as the system demands. Right now RSL simply doesn't have another player with that skill set.

Morales' age and injury history have at times cast doubt on his ability to stay in form, but do the numbers bear that out? Soccer is not an easy game to analyze statistically, but for a moment let's focus on assists because those are a fairly good indicator of how a No. 10 like Javi is performing. He lead the team in assists last year, but here's the part that indicates how valuable he is to RSL: His 9 assists were 21% of the team's total. In case you're wondering how that compares to his earlier years, that number is exactly in line with his career total, highlighting his continued importance to RSL's offensive effort. And lest you think Javi was less efficient at dishing out dimes in 2012, consider this: Last year he averaged 0.38 assists per 90 minutes. That's the second-most efficient year of his career and his highest of the last four seasons - only his 2008 efficiency was better. So rest assured, Morales is still making the most of his minutes.

Of course, it's doubtful that a 33-year-old midfielder (especially one who gets fouled as much as Javi does) is going to play 90 minutes every night of the grueling MLS season. That's where the incentive-laden contract comes in. It's likely that Morales' salary will depend to some degree on his performance metrics, including minutes played. In effect, it's an insurance policy for RSL in case Javier's output drops off or he can't go as many minutes - a shrewd move by one of the smartest front offices around.

Entering the twilight of his career, Javier Morales is still one of the top attacking midfielders in MLS and I expect he'll continue to ably orchestrate RSL's attack in 2013 and hopefully beyond. Welcome back, Javi!

A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and will cover the team for ESPN700 AM

16 January 2:48 pm

The news of Robbie Findley's return to Real Salt Lake stirred up so many buried memories in my mind, so many classic moments. The hat-trick against Columbus, the brace against L.A. in his first RSL match, and of course the equalizer against L.A. in the 2009 MLS Cup all come to mind. But my "favorite Findley" moment is this one, his second goal in RSL's 3-0 win at Colorado in October 2009.

Two things make this goal special for me. First, after a beautifully-weighted long ball (attention: Andy Williams sighting here), Findley takes a touch that makes Preston Burpo look silly. Second, he seals the deal with a finish that's much tougher than it looks.

But perhaps the thing that most makes this moment stand out in my mind is not how special the goal was, but how typical it was for Robbie Findley in many ways. How many times did we see him score in situations like this: RSL with a one-goal lead, opponent trying to get forward to find the equalizer, Findley gets in behind the defense using his speed and puts one home? Having a player with his skill set was so useful for putting games away. The last couple of seasons it has felt to me like RSL has taken the lead in plenty of games but has been unable to extend that lead past a single goal, causing a few too many nervous moments late in games. A little bit of research yielded the following numbers: When Robbie Findley was with RSL, 60% of their wins came by margins of two goals or more. In the two seasons since he left, that number is a full 10% lower.

RSL could really use somebody who can hurt opponents who are tired late in matches and taking risks while they search for an equalizer. Let's hope Robbie can bring that element back to Real Salt Lake.

A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and will cover the team for ESPN700 AM

08 January 11:21 am

A lot of Real Salt Lake fans probably found themselves smiling when Jurgen Klinsmann announced that his January training camp roster would include RSL outside back Tony Beltran. This means that, as training camp gets underway in earnest today, Beltran will find himself donning the stars and stripes for the full national team for the first time (he previously played for the U.S. at several youth levels).

At this point he is probably a long shot to make the team that will play at Honduras in a World Cup Qualifier on Feb. 6, but this call definitely serves notice that Tony's hard work and success for RSL has not gone unnoticed. Reading between the lines, it also provides a bit of vindication for Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey, who thumbed their noses at conventional wisdom when they drafted Beltran back in 2008.

I remember that day well; I was watching the draft live from the RSL office in Trolley Corners with a handful of fans and staffers when RSL's first pick came around. With baited breath we all waited to hear what our new coach and new GM would do with their first draft pick ever. As Commissioner Garber said that with the third pick in the draft, Real Salt Lake select Tony Beltran from UCLA, a collective "who?" went up from the crowd. I had seen Tony play in person once before (at a U-20 World Cup game in Montreal), but I still had reservations. I wasn't the only one - soccer pundits around the country immediately opined that Beltran could have been had much lower in such a deep draft, maybe even with RSL's next pick at #14 overall, which RSL would end up using on David Horst.

Over the next few years, the wisdom of that selection became apparent as Beltran steadily increased his impact on RSL. As the "experts" began to see the genius of the choice, eventually the unconventional methods Kreis and Lagerwey use to evaluate draft picks came to light. For example, they conduct a sit-down interview with every potential draft pick on their radar - sometimes over 50 players. Kreis once told me that he was impressed by Beltran because he wore a suit to his interview. What their methods revealed is that the men in charge of RSL don't care just about a player having a certain set of soccer skills, but also what kind of person that player is. In hindsight, the selection of Beltran made such a splash around the league that today almost every MLS club also does sit-down interviews with potential draftees.

The odds are pretty good that we'll see Beltran get capped for the Nats in the near future. The January camp roster will take on Canada in a friendly match in Houston on Jan. 29, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Tony takes the field in that game.

He has a bit more work to do to get in with the "A" national team - hence his being a long shot for the Feb. 6 match at Honduras - but he does have the benefit of playing outside back. That's been one of the U.S.'s weakest positions for quite some time, so Klinsmann is more likely to have an open mind toward changing things up and there's less of an established pecking order. Steve Cherundolo is one name you can probably pencil in at right back, but nobody else in the pool has really separated themselves from the rest. This means Beltran will go in with the opportunity to make his presence felt. After the U.S. roster was announced, he said "I go into camp as I do anything in life, ready to learn and work hard." And knowing what Salt Lake fans know about Tony, we can be certain he'll do both.

A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and will cover the team for ESPN700 AM.

18 December 12:43 pm

RSL fans got an early Christmas present today from MLS HQ as the league announced the first three games of RSL's 2013 season. But the league's gift may seem more like a lump of coal to Head Coach Jason Kreis - if he had any hopes of slowly easing his somewhat retooled team into league play, the schedule makers certainly didn't oblige. 

The Claret-and-Cobalt will open its ninth campaign on Sunday, March 3 on the road at the San Jose Earthquakes. If you're suddenly having deja vu, it's because RSL opened both the 2010 (a 3-0 win) and 2011 (a 1-0 win) seasons at San Jose as well.

This game promises to give RSL a stern test right away - the 'Quakes were the 2012 MLS Supporter's Shield winners, and despite being shocked by eventual MLS Cup champion L.A. Galaxy in the first round of the playoffs, this team was quality all year. The 2013 edition of San Jose will likely be just as dangerous as they plan to keep their core group together and make another run at multiple trophies. This game will provide an immediate test for RSL's back line sans Jamison Olave. League MVP Chris Wondolowski torched RSL a few times last season, but then again, Wondo torched pretty much everyone in league on his way to one of the most scintillating individual seasons in MLS history. But for RSL observers, this game will serve as an immediate litmus test to show how good this "new" RSL team really is.

Things don't get much easier in Week 2 as RSL will travel to Washington to take on Ben Olsen's D.C. United. Olsen is the latest retired MLS star to take the reins of the franchise he played for and quickly turn them into a contender. D.C. rose in 2012 to third in MLS in the regular season table and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were bounced by the Houston Dynamo. Like San Jose, United is a team clearly trending the right direction, so expect Olsen to do only minor tweaking this offseason as he seeks to take the next step. This is another potential "statement" game for RSL and we should get a good look at where they are in all facets of the game as D.C. is one of the more balanced teams in the league. Finally, cross-country travel is never a good thing, but it might be better to get this trip out of the way before the team gets road-weary later in the year.

The home opener at Rio Tinto won't come until March 16th (Thanks, “Greatest Snow on Earth”) when RSL will face its Rocky Mountain Cup rival, the Colorado Rapids. It's difficult to say how good Colorado will be next year. After struggling mightily in 2012, head coach Oscar Pareja is looking at a major rebuild as he tries to get the Rapids back into the thick of things. Already this offseason he has cast off major contributors Conor Casey and Tyrone Marshall, brought in Edson Buddle, and there will likely be more changes coming. But regardless, it's difficult to bet against RSL in a home opener no matter who the opponent is. As this will be the first chance most RSL fans have to see their team in person, you can't ask for a better match than this one.

2013 promises to be an exciting campaign right from the start. March 3rd can't get here fast enough!

A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and will cover the team for ESPN700 AM.

04 December 12:22 pm

We all knew changes were inevitable for RSL this offseason, but that doesn't make it an easy pill to swallow when the changes actually happen.

With the news Monday that three members of the RSL core were traded for allocation money, that pill turned out to be quite bitter. Will Johnson, Fabian Espindola, and Jamison Olave were key contributors on the field and well-liked off it. But sports, of course, are a business which means sometimes changes have to be made.

So why these three? Well, as much as I hate saying it, in this case it really boils down to the money.

Many MLS contracts are structured as back-loaded deals that give players large raises as the years go by. That means RSL would have been significantly over the league's salary cap in 2013, putting the team in the unenviable position of having to jettison some highly-paid players yet not have a major drop-off in production at the vacated spots. By making these trades, RSL was able to clear seven figures off of its cap. That is why Olave, Johnson, and Espindola are on the move.

Olave is, in my opinion, still the best center back in the league when he's healthy. Unfortunately he was injury-plagued his last two years at RSL, his minutes going from 2413 to 2128 to 1734 from 2010-2012. With his salary steadily increasing throughout that time, it made sense to move Olave. Plus, he plays a position where RSL is stocked: Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, and Kwame Watson-Siriboe are all starter-quality center backs, and Chris Wingert can slide over in a pinch.

Johnson was a favorite of many thanks to his tireless work rate. But again, he is a highly-paid player at a position where RSL has lots of options: There are no less than five exciting young players who can play that position and have frankly earned more playing time. Luis Gil, Sebastian Velasquez, David Viana, Enzo Martinez, and Cole Grossman are all exciting, dynamic young players who deserve a shot, and Jason Kreis is going to give them their due. The finite number of minutes to be split among so many players may have left Johnson as the odd man out.

Espindola is another player who "worked for the shirt" and wore his emotions on his sleeves. Sometimes, though, his emotion was his undoing as he tended to get discouraged and take himself out of games. He was always a streaky player who went through long scoring droughts at times. Seeing the need to balance the scoring load and give Alvaro Saborio some relief, the team elected to move Espindola while his trade value is high. As GM Garth Lagerwey said on Monday, RSL will certainly hit the open market for a forward or two. The allocation money RSL got from these trades should be enough to secure the services of at least one quality striker.

Olave, Johnson and Espindola will all be missed. They each meant a great deal to RSL over the years. But their trades mean a lot, too. These were the right moves for RSL, which now has the money and cap flexibility to come back strong in 2013.

This is Jeremy Horton's first piece on RealSaltLake.com. A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy will contribute regularly to RealSaltLake.com and periodically cover the team on ESPN700 AM.