If you’ve been following The Sovereign blog for a while, you might remember the RSL Love Connection from two years ago, featured here by the inimitable Sam Stejskal.
For a quick refresher, Matt Rieck was a Real Salt Lake season ticket holder until his job took him to San Diego. In April of 2012, he went to a road match against the San Jose Earthquakes, but also used the trip to visit a friend's sister, Kathryn Roethel. Their first date was at that match and although they lived in opposite ends of California, they maintained their long-distance relationship, sharing a bond of RSL soccer (and the jersey she “borrowed” from him). She documented their first date and blossoming love on Valentine’s Day in 2013 and this week she sent an update.
Matt and Kathryn are now engaged and will be married on March 7 – the afternoon of Real Salt Lake’s season-opening match against the Portland Timbers. In keeping with the spirit of their relationship, Matt and his groomsmen will all be wearing RSL’s colors in their ties, vests and boutonnieres. “I suspect one of Matt's many RSL scarves may make an appearance in wedding photos, as well!” she writes.
So with their wedding day (and the kickoff to RSL’s season) just three weeks away, we here at Real Salt Lake would love to take the opportunity to pass on Kathryn’s Happy Valentine’s Day message to her fiancée and also pass on festive greetings of our own to our own Valentines – the thousands of fans that rock Rio Tinto Stadium for Real Salt Lake home matches, the droves of fans across the country that represent the Claret-and-Cobalt with pride, and the fans-to-be that will be converted in an exciting 2015 season.
Happy Valentine’s Day from the RSL Family to you!
Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jeff Cassar weighed in on Joao Plata’s injury and how it will affect the team on Monday on RealSaltLake.com. Meanwhile, over at the Salt Lake Tribune, Technical Director Craig Waibel had a similarly optimistic approach about the effect of losing the club’s leading scorer in 2014 for 3-4 months with a fractured fifth metatarsal in his left foot.
"Obviously it's disappointing anytime you lose a player, regardless who it is to an injury," Waibel said. "At the same time, we like our roster, we like our options and we like the players that are behind him. We're obviously going to get a much better look at Olmes Garcia, Sebastian Jaime, Jordan Allen — you take Plata out of attacking options for a while. The expectation was that Joao would start obviously, but now it's time for one of these other guys to step up like Joao did last year and show that they can be a high-impact player for us."
According to the article, Waibel also didn’t rule out the possibility of bringing more forwards into the fold in training camp to give Cassar more options.
To read the full story, click here.
All off-season, Rio Tinto Stadium has been undergoing a bit of a facelift and on Saturday the bandages come off in the Winter Open House.
Highlighted by the unveiling of the new, state-of-the-art video board at the south end of the stadium, the afternoon will also feature appearances with select players, a Q&A session with new Technical Director Craig Waibel and will highlight some of the exclusive opportunities available for season ticket holders.
UPDATE: Waibel (1:30) will be followed by Jamison Olave (2:00), Joao Plata (2:30), Boyd Okwuonu (3:00) and Phanuel Kavita (3:30). Olave is back with RSL after two seasons with the New York Red Bulls. Plata is coming off of a breakout season that saw him lead the team with 13 goals. Okwuonu is Salt Lake's first pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, a defender from the University of North Carolina. And Kavita is a Salt Lake City native that signed as a Homegrown player after four seasons at Clemson University.
The high-definition board more than triples the video surface area of the current north end screen, and will provide nearly 4,200 square feet of 13HD pixel resolution, larger than any other board used in Major League Soccer in 2014.
Manufactured by Daktronics, Inc. - the world's industry leader in designing and manufacturing electronic scoreboards, programmable display systems and large screen video displays - installation on the new board began in mid-September and this will mark the first time it will be utilized for Real Salt Lake’s fans.
The Real Salt Lake team store will open at 10 am and doors open for the Open House at 12:45. Tours begin at 1 pm and will feature a tour of the locker room that will be used by the RSL’s USL affiliate, Real Monarchs.
On This Date In Real Salt Lake History
January 20, 2006
After finishing the club’s inaugural season with a 5-22-5 record, just one point ahead of Chivas USA, Real Salt Lake held the second pick in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft. With a deep draft of former U.S. Youth internationals like Marvell Wynne, Sacha Kljestan, Patrick Ianni, Nathan Sturgis and Dax McCarty, it was a deep draft pool that would surely help RSL improve on that opening season record.
On draft day, the MetroStars traded up to the top spot, sending the fifth pick and Jason Hernandez to Chivas USA to select Wynne, leaving RSL with a lengthy list of players to bolster the lineup.
With the second overall pick, Salt Lake nabbed former Morocco Youth National Teamer Mehdi Ballouchy, a 2005 All-American midfielder from Santa Clara.
In his first season, Ballouchy earned a starting role under Head Coach John Ellinger, notching two goals and two assists while starting in 26 matches. One of only two RSL players to appear in all 32 matches, Ballouchy was a finalist for MLS Rookie of the Year, but lost out to Chivas USA defender Jonathan Bornstein.
He again was a starter in his second season at Rice-Eccles Stadium, but after 14 matches and a coaching change that saw Jason Kreis take over the helm, he was traded to the Colorado Rapids in exchange for Kyle Beckerman. Ballouchy now has 13 goals and 24 assists in 194 career MLS matches, playing for RSL, Colorado, the New York Red Bulls, San Jose Earthquakes and Vancouver Whitecaps FC before landing this year with New York City FC. Beckerman, meanwhile, is a cornerstone and captain for Real Salt Lake and a regular with the U.S. National Team.
On This Date In Real Salt Lake History
January 19, 2005
Monday marks the 10th anniversary of what has proved to be an important date in Real Salt Lake’s history. It was on January 19, 2005, that the club acquired seven-year MLS veteran and former U.S. Olympic captain Brian Dunseth in a trade with FC Dallas.
Dunseth had played seven seasons in MLS with the New England Revolution, Miami Fusion, Columbus Crew and FC Dallas before a one-year stint with Bodens BK in Sweden in 2004. The 27-year-old defender had played 147 career matches and brought that experience to the expansion club in its inaugural season.
And while he became renowned for scoring Real Salt Lake’s first home goal at Rice-Eccles Stadium to deliver RSL its first ever victory, his impact on the club since retirement has been felt exponentially. In the broadcast booth as an analyst and presenter with Real Salt Lake since 2006, Dunseth has brought the game into the fans’ living rooms, making the game accessible to fans you and old, novice and expert. There, as part of the game broadcast, ESPN radio’s On Frame and through online coverage at RealSaltLake.com, Dunseth has enlightened, enthused and engaged the fanbase as it has grown into the crowds that regularly sell out Rio Tinto Stadium today.
On the field, Dunseth started 24 matches for Real Salt Lake in 2005 before he was traded to Chivas USA in 2006. Only five players played in more matches for RSL that season.
In addition to his work with RSL, Dunseth has also done television analysis for ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC Sports and the Pac-12 Network, among others.
On This Date In Real Salt Lake History
January 18, 2008
It has been a long time since Real Salt Lake was out of the playoffs and in position to make dramatic improvements to the club through the MLS SuperDraft. The last time RSL held a pick in the top 11 selections was in 2008 when a 6-15-9 record meant it would pick third overall.
With the first overall pick, the Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City) picked UCLA defender Chance Myers. FC Dallas followed by picking Texas high school standout Brek Shea. Next was Real Salt Lake with the third pick. With a hole at the right back spot and when MLS Commissioner Don Garber stepped to the microphone, it was to announce that RSL selected UCLA defender Tony Beltran.
A member of the Generation adidas class, Beltran was a standout in two seasons with the Bruins. A native of Claremont, Calif., he was a two-time High School All-American who played his first college season at St. John’s in New York before transferring back home to UCLA. An accomplished youth player, Beltran also figured prominently for the U.S. U-18 National Team that won the 2005 Milk Cup and the U-20 team that reached the quarterfinals of the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
With Real Salt Lake, Beltran started 10 out of 15 matches in his rookie season in helping RSL reach the postseason. He has since been a key contributor to RSL’s seven consecutive postseason berths, 2009 MLS Cup title, and runner-up finishes in the 2011 CONCACAF Champions League, 2013 MLS Cup and 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Now 27 years old, Beltran has 164 career appearances, including 151 starts. He also has 13 playoff appearances. He is entering his eighth MLS season with the Claret-and-Cobalt.
On Thursday, Major League Soccer will hold the first two rounds of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft at the Philadelphia Convention. Real Salt Lake holds the 16th overall pick in the first round, but none in the second round. That pick, 37th overall, was traded to Toronto FC on January 30, 2013, in a trade that was consummated on the night before the 2013 MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis, Indiana. In exchange for the club’s second round pick this year, Toronto sent Salt Lake Joao Plata in a late-night swap that was vividly recalled in a Salt Lake Tribune story following the 2013 season.
With Toronto FC, Plata had three goals and five assists in 36 matches, showing plenty of promise at just 20 years old. Then-GM Garth Lagerwey was understandably excited about acquiring the young forward, particularly after parting ways with key players Jamison Olave, Fabian Espindola and Will Johnson the previous month.
In the two seasons since arriving at Rio Tinto Stadium, Plata has 17 goals and 14 assists in 56 matches, winning RSL’s Golden Boot in 2014 with 13 goals. So when other teams are making their second round selections, bringing in young players in hopes of landing a diamond in the rough or a player with the potential to develop into a consistent contributor, Real Salt Lake will know that they already used their pick on a 22-year-old player who has already established himself as a star in Major League Soccer.
He is Plata.
On This Date In Real Salt Lake History
January 14, 2010
The MLS SuperDraft can be an unpredictable mechanism. Some players come into the league with loads of hype only to fall short of expectations while others come in virtually unknown and end up making an impact for years to come.
Chris Schuler falls much more into the second category than the first and January 14 marks the fifth anniversary of the date he was drafted in the third round of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. With the club’s first round pick, it selected midfielder Collen Warner out of the University of Portland, later adding Justin Davis from New Mexico in the second round. However, it was the third round pick – 39th overall – that would prove most impactful.
RSL traded with the LA Galaxy to acquire the early-third round pick and leapt at the chance to draft the burly center back from Creighton University in Nebraska. Schuler was the Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and an NSCAA Second-Team All-American. However, he still slipped down the draft until finally landing with RSL.
Although his impact wouldn’t be felt on the field until 2011, when he made 20 appearances, including 16 starts, and netted two goals, he has now blossomed into a defensive force for RSL, solidifying the back line in front of Nick Rimando.
Schuler enjoyed a career-best season in 2014, starting in 25 matches while tallying three goals and one assist. He now has 75 career appearances (67 starts), five goals and two assists.
Photo Courtesy: Andy Mead
In our final positional preview for the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, we will examine the defenders and goalkeepers. J.R. Eskilson from TopDrawerSoccer.com capped off the series with an informative view on another strength in this year’s draft that includes a deep group of center backs.
“There are three or four good center backs and maybe a few others who could become good center backs. That’s the strong part of that group,” Eskilson said. “There are some good right backs in this class and there are some good center backs. There is decent talent among that and there are a lot of guys who have generated some buzz.”
Among the top talent in the defensive group is Ramon Martin Del Campo from UC Davis, Oumar Ballo from UMBC and Boyd Okwonwu from North Carolina.
Ballow stood out particularly to Eskilson, and not just because of his immense size.
“He’s a giant of a man. He’s good in the air. He’s good one-v-one. The question is if he will be able to play at the speed of MLS,” Eskilson said. “At UMBC is in one of the weaker conferences, so you don’t necessarily see those guys go against MLS talent. But he was able to get UMBC to College Cup and show that he was able to compete against any type of player. He was probably one of the best players in college soccer over the last year.”
On the other side of that coin is the under-sized Okwonwu, who had a standout career in the ACC as a center back despite a smaller stature.
“You could pair him with a big center back or play him at outside back. He completed a ton of passes, but you’ll have to see how he can do with one-v-one defending,” Eskilson noted.
While those prospects highlight the class of defenders, there is also a clear top goalkeeper in this year’s draft – Syracuse’s Alex Bono. The Generation adidas signing was invited to the U.S. National Team’s January camp and is the top dog in an otherwise steady group, though the rest of the class isn’t expected to be a factor in the SuperDraft until later rounds.
The 2015 MLS SuperDraft is scheduled to begin with Orlando City SC holding the first pick at 10:30 am MT on Thursday. Real Salt Lake holds the 16th pick in the first round. To watch live, click here.
In part two of our SuperDraft positional previews, we take a look at the midfield, where there is a lot of depth in the middle of the field and less so in wide midfield roles. Again, we enlist the help of J.R. Eskilson from TopDrawerSoccer.com to break down the top players and some possible late-round sleepers.
According to Eskilson, there are players in the midfield of this draft that can step in right away and contribute on the MLS level while others can serve a purpose in a reserve role or develop at the USL level, where they can continue their progress toward eventual MLS success. The strength, he says, comes in the central midfielders.
“I don’t think there are many wide players in this draft that are going to be options immediately,” Eskilson said. “There are a lot of defensive holding midfielders and box-to-box types. That’s probably the strongest position in this draft. There aren’t a lot of attacking players in there.”
Among those singled out by the TopDrawerSoccer.com analyst were Eric Bird from Virginia, Notre Dame’s Nick Besler (pictured above) and Dan Metzger, as well as Leo Stolz and Cristian Roldan, who is projected to go within the first three picks.
“One of the players who might have potential in the first year is Eric Bird from Virginia. People didn’t see a ton of him because he didn’t play in the College Cup because he had a groin injury, but he’s a very good player who likes to get forward. He’s decent on the ball and technical enough to make it in MLS,” Eskilson said.
While Bird was on the championship-winning team in 2014, Besler (who is the younger brother of Sporting Kansas City and U.S. National Team defender Matt Besler) took home the title in 2013.
“He’s a defensive midfielder, strong on the ball and helps keep possession. He’s a really smart type of player who will fit well in MLS,” Eskilson said of Besler. “Some people question his athleticism, but he’s smart enough to make up for that.”
From the Pac-12, Stolz and Roldan bring different dimensions to the table, but both have found success individually and in helping their college teams succeed.
“Leo Stolz is a good No. 10 if he signs with MLS and stays in the draft,” Eskilson said. “Cristian Roldan wants to play as an attacking midfielder, but he’s also capable of playing out on the wings. He’s good on the ball. He’s more athletic that he seems and he’s really smart and tactically disciplined. I think he’ll be challenged more in MLS than he was in college and that will help him develop into an MLS All-Star type of player if he can find the right team. There is a lot of potential for him and he hasn’t played at a high level for very long – when he was in college, he exponentially grew.”
Meanwhile, Tyler Arnone of Michigan elicited memories of a former RSL midfielder.
“He sort of reminds me a little bit of Will Johnson. He may not be as good as Will Johnson tactically, but he’s that type of player. A No. 8 who gets up and down the field and is capable of scoring a goal here or there,” Eskilson said. “He’s tough on the tackle and competitive enough to lead his team.”
The 2015 MLS SuperDraft starts at 10:30 am MT on Thursday. Real Salt Lake holds the 16th overall selection.
The draft will be streamed on MLSSoccer.com.