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.
The MLSsoccer.com crew put together a very nice video recap of Monday night's "Soccer Night in Newtown" event. Give it a watch - it's well worth your time.
It's been quite a busy Sunday for RSL, with the big announcement that Tony Beltran and Kyle Beckerman were called up to the U.S. National Team for its January training camp dropping just before noon in Salt Lake.
Beltran's and Beckerman's call ups aren't Sunday's only RSL-related news, however - a couple of other nuggets bear repeating, too.
First up is the report from Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl on Fox Soccer's Goals on Sunday that Rio Tinto Stadium is one of three finalists - along with Kansas City and Denver - to host the U.S.'s Hexagonal home opener against Costa Rica on March 22. The U.S. hosted a Hexagonal match at Rio Tinto in 2009, with the Yanks downing El Salvador 2-1 in Sandy. Hosting a second qualifer at the RioT would be a dream, especially when you consider that RSL's Beckerman, goalie Nick Rimando and Costa Rican forward Alvaro Saborio would likely be involved in the match. U.S. Soccer will announce which stadium will host the game this week.
Goals on Sunday host Rob Stone dropped the other RSL-related nugget, reporting that Rimando was invited to the January U.S. camp, but was held out due to injury precaution.
Let's hope for that March qualifier and a speedy recovery for Rimando. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.
Real Salt Lake signed defender/midfielder Lovel Palmer on Thursday, inking the Jamaican international to a contract about three weeks after selecting him in Stage 2 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft.
Palmer has lined up against RSL six times in Major League Soccer, playing against the Claret-and-Cobalt three times each for Houston and Portland. Interestingly, Palmer played one match against Real Salt Lake before he came to MLS, donning the armband and scoring a goal for Jamaican side Harbour View in a 1-1 draw in a friendly match on Aug. 24, 2005 at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Former RSL defender Nelson Akwari scored the Claret-and-Cobalt's lone goal in that match.
Sadly, I couldn’t manage to dig up a very descriptive account of the then 21-year-old Palmer’s goal. The best I found came from The Salt Lake Tribune, which said that the strike came “on a breakaway, and got a cheer from a smattering of Jamaican supporters spread throughout an announced crowd of 6,240.”
Happy Holidays from all of us here at Real Salt Lake!
We sincerely hope that you and yours have a joyous Holiday season. Thanks for all of your fantastic support in 2012. We're already looking forward to having you all back for another great year in 2013.
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.
Just in case you missed it in today's News Stand, here's video of blind RSL fan Kuha'o Case playing "Believe" on the keyboard. Watch it - it's awesome.
According to the YouTube description of the video, Kuha'o has been blind since infancy and taught himself how to play the piano about three years ago. He plays the RSL anthem in a variety of styles, tapping the keys for a total of 3 minutes, 29 seconds.
If all of that isn't enough, here's a video of Kuha'o playing Psy's hit "Gangnam Style." He had only listened to the song twice before playing it. His video has over 300,000 views. Amazing.
If you missed Real Salt Lake Winterfest at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday, you missed a great Q&A session with Claret-and-Cobalt General Manager Garth Lagerwey.
Lagerwey on Saturday discussed RSL’s 2012 season, the big roster moves the team made last Monday and his expectations for 2013. We’ve taken the time to list a few highlights from the Q&A, which can be viewed in its entirety above.
Top priority: Sign players capable of scoring in the biggest moments
Lagerwey talked at length on Saturday about RSL’s struggles to score in its biggest home matches over the years.
The team didn’t score at Rio Tinto Stadium in the 2012 playoffs, the 2012 CONCACAF Champions League Group Stage finale, the 2011 CCL Final or the 2008 Eastern Conference Final. RSL did score a lone goal in the home leg of its 2010 playoff series against Dallas, but that wasn’t enough to put the team through to the next round.
"Five games, the five biggest games in the history of this building, we've scored one goal," Lagerwey said.
That striking statistic has Lagerwey looking for new forwards to come in and pair leading-scorer Alvaro Saborio. Expect RSL to look to Central and South America for the new charges.
“If you're going to win the biggest games, especially in a sport like soccer where it's very difficult to score goals, you have to have special players," Lagerwey said. "That doesn't mean big-price stars, but it means guys who are willing to take the responsibility to step up in the biggest moments and say, 'I'm going to score. The team's not going to score, I am.'
“We need to adjust our mentality, and we need to bring in players who are going to accept that responsibility,” he added. “That's the only way we're going to change that pattern of always being pretty good but never being great. Our goal is to be great."
RSL is high on its current group of midfielders
Though the team traded former regular Will Johnson to Portland on Monday, Lagerwey is still very high on Real Salt Lake’s current crop of midfielders.
The RSL GM is obviously comfortable with Kyle Beckerman and Ned Grabavoy and is hopeful that Javier Morales – who is currently out of contract – will return to the club next season. Lagerwey also has big expectations for 19-year-old Luis Gil, who will likely step into Johnson’s role as a full-time starter in 2013.
“If Javier is to come back, we’d have Javi, Kyle and Ned as three lockdown midfielders and Luis Gil who we think the sky is the limit for,” Lagerwey said. “In my opinion, that’s as good a group of starting midfielders that you’re going to find.”
Lagerwey also really likes RSL’s midfield depth, talking on Saturday about how excited he is to see what 2012 reserves Sebastian Velasquez, Yordany Alvarez, Enzo Martinez, David Viana and offseason acquisition Cole Grossman bring to the table in 2013.
“Behind [our starters] it’s not just Sebastian Velasquez, but David Viana, Enzo Martinez,” he said. “We think that Yordany Alvarez, with another year in the system, will be able to play the side of the diamond. And I’ll tell you what, this kid Cole Grossman that we picked up… we’re pretty high on him, too.”
“If two of those guys succeed you’re pretty darn good, so we feel pretty good about our midfielders.”
Losing Will Johnson hurts
While he's excited about RSL's 2013 midfield, it was very clear on Saturday that Lagerwey had a hard time trading Will Johnson.
Johnson, who earns a hefty salary, had been with RSL since 2008, endearing himself to everyone around the team with his trademark hustle and no-nonsense attitude. Lagerwey got a little choked up when explaining the motivation behind sending the Canadian international to Portland.
“Will made a good salary, so we worked with him and said ‘Hey, is there any chance you take a pay cut,’” Lagerwey said. “I’ve never known a player in my life to take a pay cut, so his answer predictably was no. I said ‘We’re getting offers for you at such a level that we have to consider trading you, it’s the only common sense approach.’”
“He understood and asked where they were coming from and we gave him the teams. He said ‘Do you mind if I talk to them and try to work out where the best situation for me is?’ I said ‘Absolutely, if we work together and you tell me which team you really want to go to and that team matches the offers that we have out there then we’re happy to do that.’”
“But Will is a sad one for me,” Lagerwey continued. “He’s one of my favorite players we’ve ever had, but we just got offers that were high enough that we had to consider them. We worked together, it was he and I on the phone, him saying ‘Alright, I’ve talked to everybody I want to go to Portland’ and me telling Portland ‘Ok, if you match then it’s a done deal.’ And we did it. For Will, with a little baby, it was tough for him. It was tough to lose him, but we feel like we did the best we could.”
Lost a bit in the shuffle of Monday’s big trades and option declines was the news that starting defenders Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran both signed contract extensions to stay at Real Salt Lake.
That’s a shame, because the extensions are significant news. Wingert and Beltran were rocks for the Claret-and-Cobalt in 2012, with both players finishing the season in the top-three on RSL in league appearances, league starts and league minutes played.
Both guys are lockdown defenders, solid in possession and constantly improving in the attack. Their returns – along with that of starting center back Nat Borchers – keeps a good amount of continuity on the RSL backline, which lost starter Jamison Olave in a trade with New York on Monday.
That continuity is tactically significant. Wingert and Beltran both know the RSL system incredibly well. Head Coach Jason Kreis won’t need to worry about teaching either of them when to press, when to sit back, where to pop up in support or when to bomb forward like he would with new players.
Both Wingert and Beltran provide stabilizing forces in the locker room. Wingert is RSL’s longest tenured field player and Beltran has been around since the 2008 SuperDraft. They’re both easy to get along with, both of them work very hard and both set good examples for their teammates.
Make no mistake: Wingert and Beltran returning for 2013 and beyond is a big deal. They’ve been around for all of the team’s past successes and will undoubtedly play important roles in the Claret-and-Cobalt’s next generation.