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.
Real Salt Lake General Manager Garth Lagerwey joined ESPN700's “The Bill and Hans Show” on Monday afternoon to discuss RSL’s busy day and look ahead to the rest of the offseason.
The majority of the conversation – which you can listen to in full here – is transcribed below:
On trading Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave to New York for allocation money
“One of the issues that we’ve had as we’ve kept our core together since 2008 is that the cap goes up about 5 percent a year and our player contracts go up more than that. That forces us into decisions of prioritizing who stays and who goes. For the most part, we’ve been able to hold off the day of reckoning on that for a number of years through the way we’ve structured some contracts through some bonuses and some acquisition fees and things like that. But once we hit the end of this year and we weren’t able to qualify for Champions League and we weren’t able to advance in the playoffs it just became clear it was time to try to restructure our salary cap and create some more resources to try to go after some attacking firepower.
Overall the two cases are a little bit different. Fabian has obviously scored 19 goals over the last two years and I think he had something along the order of 10 assists. He was on the All-Star team this year and I think he’ll be very, very difficult to replace and we’ll be looking to go abroad to sign a player to try to do that.
Jamison will also be difficult to replace but we do feel like we have some good young center backs in the fold with Chris Schuler, Kwame Watson-Siriboe and, we haven’t talked about this one yet, but we’ve also acquired a young center back with some pace from Toronto named Aaron Maund. He was Toronto’s first round draft pick last year and we rated him very highly.”
On the thinking behind Monday’s moves
“The idea, the philosophy behind all the moves is to fundamentally restructure our salary cap to setup what will hopefully be another long, successful run and to identify positions where we have good young players who are ready to step up and contribute.
We also want to address what we feel is a key issue going forward which is to acquire more goal scorers. We want to get players on our team in all positions who can score goals in big games. As you know, the team is the star and that remains the case. We’re not talking about going out and getting star, big-name players but we’ve had a number of times now in big games where we weren’t able to get a goal when we absolutely had to have it. The obvious cases there are Herediano at home when a 1-0 win would’ve put us through we don’t score and Seattle in the playoffs with two games without scoring. But we feel like this issue goes back further than that. If you go back to 2011 we had Monterrey at home to win the Champions League, just needing a tie and we lose and don’t score. In the 2010 playoffs we had Dallas at home and any kind of win puts us through and we tie 1-1. In 2009 obviously we won the champ. But in 2008 in the Conference Final at home against New York we lose 1-0. So every example save for one, in the biggest games that we’ve played at home in front of sold-out crowds we have not been able to score a goal and that’s something that we’re seeking to address this offseason.”
On finding forwards this offseason
“We’re looking for more goals out of the midfield as well, but definitely we have to go out now and sign forwards. I don’t rule out trading for a forward, but I suspect that the cost of trading for a forward when you weigh salary plus allocation money we’d have to give up, I suspect you’re going to find a better value if you go out abroad and try and find a forward that way. I think the goal is to try to sign or acquire at least two forwards this offseason.”
On the team’s salary cap situation after Monday’s moves
“By acquiring a lot of allocation money today we’ve affected a seven figure swing from a cap perspective. To be clear we came into this offseason where we knew we had to cut 25 percent of payroll and we have done that. We’re now under the cap and with the all money we’ve acquired through various deals we now have enough we think to go out and acquire a couple of forwards and potentially possibly a third player.”
As our fans see these players moving out through these various trades, it’s important to remember who this core is. Going up the spine of our team you’re still looking at [Nick] Rimando, [Nat] Borchers, [Kyle] Beckerman and [Alvaro] Saborio. And we’re in negotiations with Javier Morales, as well.
What we’re doing right now is tweaking our core. We’re trying to get a little bit younger, but, to be honest with you; it’s all about the right mix of experience and youth. We want to keep the mentors in place to take along and educate our younger players so we can hopefully have a good transition without a big dip in form.”
On what fans should be thinking heading into 2013
"I think they can expect a team that consistently competes for championships. That’s what I pledged to ownership when they hired me and I think we’ve been able to achieve that so far.
Now as we begin to turn the team over, when we trade away Espindola and Olave and have one other potential deal in the works, we’re trading away guys who have been All-Stars, who have been Best XI in the league. It’s disrespectful to those players to claim you’re going to replace them immediately. I think it takes time but again, what I think [Head Coach] Jason [Kreis] and I have done it right is that we’ve built the team in such a way that we have young players that are in positions to succeed if we keep enough good players around them…. We feel that we have a group of four young center backs that are ready to step up and contribute. And I think in midfield we have a number of really exciting young players when you look at Sebastian Velasquez and David Viana and Luis Gil and Yordany Alvarez… and Enzo Martinez….
The goal going forward is also to contend for championships and hopefully we’re able to kind of reset things right now so that we can afford contracts for the long-term and potentially take this tweaking of the core and ride it for multiple years. I think that’s the one thing we really got right going back to 2008 and 2009. We identified a group of players and we stuck with them and we were able to keep them together for a number of years. And through that consistency, through that continuity we were able to keep our style of play and have longer term success. That is what we’re trying to accomplish here. There might be some hiccups, there might be some slipups in the beginning just as there were in 2008 and 2009… but our expectation is to make the playoffs and that’s a goal that we’ll have every year. I’m hopeful that if we handle this transition properly we’ll achieve that.”
On contract negotiations with MF Javier Morales
“With Javier I expect that a resolution will come or not come within the next week or so. I think the other place he might go is Mexico. I think that those teams are now beginning to become active, they just had their final this weekend and those teams are beginning to become active in pursuing players.
It’s always been a question of does Javi want to come back, or does he want to play in Mexico, because if he wants to go to Mexico they’re going to be able to pay him more money than we will. Because of that it’s largely a personal decision from Javier. Of course we want him back, we’re very eager to re-sign him. I actually think that Javi’s family is happy here in Salt Lake and he wants to come back. Of course I obviously can’t speak for Javi and I’m sure his opinion will depend on what his options are, but usually when a player has positive thoughts about coming back and the club wants him back that’s a good environment to complete the deal.”
On Head Coach Jason Kreis’ recent scouting trip to South America
“We identified a number of players and the good news is that Jason agreed with our scouting staff that a lot of these players are pretty good players. Now the hard part comes with figuring out how to afford them.
It’s a question of being patient and finding the right deal, for the right player, for the right price. We can all identify that Messi’s a good player. We can’t all afford that, though. So it’s really finding the right match at the right value and that’s what we’re trying to do right now.”
On whether RSL will stick with its possession oriented system in 2013
“I think as long as Jason’s the coach of RSL we’re likely to stick with the same system…. Again, we’re not talking about changing out every player on our team. We have made some very significant moves with some very significant players who have been with us for a long time. That is a big deal and it will be difficult to replace those guys, but we still have a number of core players in place and I believe we’ll have enough continuity and veteran leadership within the group to remain successful and to pass our ideals on.
The good news is that a lot of the young guys that we have now have a year or more under their belts. David Viana has had a couple of months, Sebastian Velasquez has had a whole year, Yordany Alvarez has had two years, Enzo Martinez has had a year, [Kenny] Mansally’s had the better part of a year, [Chris] Schuler’s had three years and Kwame [Watson-Siriboe] has had the better part of a year. So when you look at our young guys that are looking to replace some of these guys that we’re moving out, I think now they are better prepared to succeed in year two or three and it would almost do them a disservice to switch the system at this point. I think keeping the same system is going to hopefully reward the hard work that those kids have put in.”
By now you probably know that Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando took home the 2012 MLS Save of the Year for his acrobatic stop on Kansas City forward Kei Kamara in RSL's April 14 game at Sporting.
What you might've missed, however, was Rimando lightheartedly ripping on teammate Nat Borchers when reacting to the honor, thanking his teammate "for losing his man and allowing me to make the save for this year’s award.”
Of course, Nick was only kidding around with Nat. Just gives us all a little window into the fun atmosphere the guys have in the locker room.
Nick's full quote is below:
“Saves are never planned but when you have a chance to help your team it feels great,” Rimando said. “It’s always an honor to be recognized. I also have to thank RSL DF Nat Borchers for losing his man and allowing me to make the save for this year’s award.”
MLS Insider somehow beat us to it - trust us, we're hanging our heads in shame - but big news RSL fans: Claret-and-Cobalt head coach Jason Kreis joined Twitter yesterday.
Make sure you give Jason a follow. We're not sure how long he'll keep his account live, so get in now while the getting's good.
We’re less than 24 hours away from Thanksgiving and – in the spirit of the holiday – that has those of us here at Real Salt Lake thinking about what we’re grateful for.
Here’s a quick list. Make sure you have a safe and happy holiday.
How could this not be first on the list? You guys came out in huge numbers this year, setting club records for sell-outs, average attendance and consecutive sell-outs. All of us here at RSL – the staff, the coaches and especially the players – greatly appreciate your tremendous support.
The ‘Believe’ Anthem
One of the lasting memories of the 2012 season was the spontaneous singing of Rancid drummer Branden Steineckert’s ‘Believe’ Anthem in the second half of RSL’s Western Conference Semifinal Leg 2 against Seattle. There was no prompt and no background music, just 20,000 people – all in full voice – trying to push the Claret-and-Cobalt on to victory.
While the team sadly came up just a bit short, that moment was a special one. We’re thankful for it and – more importantly – we’re thankful for the song. It’s far and away the best anthem in MLS and we love hearing it rock Rio Tinto before, during and after every home game.
Five-straight playoff appearances
RSL’s run of five-straight playoff appearances is the longest active run of postseason qualification in the league. We’re thankful for it – it’ll be great to get to six next year.
Real Salt Lake set new records for goals scored (46), points (57) and wins (17) this year. Claret-and-Cobalt forward Alvaro Saborio also set a new mark, breaking RSL’s single-season goal scoring record with 17 goals.
We’re excited about all of the team’s new records. Hopefully they’ll all get broken in 2013.
More than anything, we’re grateful for the fantastic opportunities that the team will have in 2013.
Is it March yet?
For the second year in a row, the LA Galaxy will take on the Houston Dynamo in MLS Cup.
LA and Houston won their respective Conference Finals on Sunday, with both teams hanging on to big first leg leads to advance to Cup on Dec. 1 at the Home Depot Center. Both sides won 4-2 on aggregate, with Houston tying DC 1-1 at RFK Stadium in the afternoon before LA lost 2-1 to knockout Seattle – which, of course, bounced RSL in the Western Conference Semifinals – in the evening.
Interestingly, LA’s win over Sounders FC marks the first time that the team that knocked RSL out of the playoffs won’t compete in MLS Cup. The three previous teams that had eliminated the Claret-and-Cobalt from the postseason – New York in 2008, Dallas in 2010 and LA last year – all went on to qualify for Cup, with LA winning the whole thing last season.
MLS Cup will kickoff at 2:30 p.m. MT on Saturday, Dec. 1 at the Home Depot Center. The match will be broadcast live on ESPN, TeleFutura, TSN and RDS.
No member of the Real Salt Lake organization was included on the list of 2012 MLS Award Finalists announced by the league on Thursday morning.
This is the first time since the 2009 MLS Cup winning season that RSL hasn’t had a player or coach nominated for an end-of-season award.
RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando was perhaps the team’s most surprising snub, not making the finalist list for Goalkeeper of the Year despite registering 16 wins, 13 shutouts and a 1.03 goals against average in the MLS regular season.
The awards will be released throughout a 10-day period starting on Nov. 19 with the reveal of Xbox Fair Play Individual & Team of the Year, and Rookie of the Year awards before ending with the announcement of the AT&T Goal of the Year, MLS Save of the Year, and Volkswagen Most Valuable Player award on Nov. 29.
The full list of Award Finalists is below:
Rookie of the Year Finalists
Austin Berry (Chicago Fire)
Nick DeLeon (D.C. United)
Darren Mattocks (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
Xbox Individual Fair Play Finalists*
Ante Jazic (Chivas USA)
Logan Pause (Chicago Fire)
Heath Pearce (New York Red Bulls)
Xbox Team Fair Play Finalists*
New England Revolution
Defender of the Year Finalists
Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes)
Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)
Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City)
MLS W.O.R.K.S. Humanitarian of the Year Finalists
Kei Kamara (Sporting Kansas City)
Michael Lahoud (Philadelphia Union)
Chris Seitz (FC Dallas)
Referee of the Year Finalists
Assistant Referee of the Year Finalists
Coach of the Year Finalists
Ben Olsen (D.C. United)
Peter Vermes (Sporting Kansas City)
Frank Yallop (San Jose Earthquakes)
Comeback Player of the Year Finalists
Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes)
Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC)
Chris Pontius (D.C. United)
Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year Finalists
Michael Gspurning (Seattle Sounders FC)
Dan Kennedy (Chivas USA)
Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting Kansas City)
Newcomer of the Year Finalists
Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes)
Michael Gspurning (Seattle Sounders FC)
Federico Higuain (Columbus Crew)
Volkswagen Most Valuable Player Finalists
Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls)
Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
As you all undoubtedly know by now, Real Salt Lake was – sadly – bounced from the MLS Cup Playoffs last Thursday, losing to Seattle Sounders FC at Rio Tinto Stadium to drop the Western Conference Semifinal series 0-1 on aggregate.
While the team obviously didn’t get the result it wanted on Thursday night, 19,657 great RSL fans put in yet another fantastic performance in a season that was chock full of them. You were great all year long –the below numbers just highlight that.
Thanks for all the love RSL fans. We’ll see you back at Rio Tinto in 2013.
The number of times Rio Tinto Stadium was sold out this year. That’s a club record.
RSL’s average attendance this season. That’s another club record.
The number of consecutive sell-outs at Rio Tinto Stadium from Aug. 18-Oct. 27.
The number of people in attendance for RSL’s 2-1 home win over Portland on Sept. 22, the largest crowd of the season.
The number of fans in attendance for RSL’s May 29 U.S. Open Cup match against Minnesota Stars FC. The huge crowd was the largest non-final, non-doubleheader crowd in the U.S. Open Cup’s nearly 100 year history.
The number of points RSL earned in the MLS regular season, breaking the club record of 56 set by the 2010 squad.
The number of goals scored by RSL in the MLS regular season – yet another club record.
The number of wins for RSL and the number of MLS goals scored by forward Alvaro Saborio in 2012. Yep, those are both club records, too.
After a goalless draw in the first leg last Friday, Real Salt Lake and Seattle are coming into this second leg with a mission to advance. It's the sort of thing that might produce a tactical battle, but with both sides suffering a bit physically, the result might be a bit simpler.
In the past four games (all without goals involved, mind), Real Salt Lake has taken 59 shots. Obviously, not all of those have been clear-cut chances, but some certainly have been. It's easy to berate RSL for playing too defensively when not scoring, but the approach has been generally positive.
Positivity is one thing, but finishing chances is another altogether. If Real Salt Lake wants to make it out of this one, they have two options: For 120 minutes, defend with all the resoluteness and ability they showed in the last leg, or finish at least one chance.
The lack of finishing has been a bit surprising, considering the deadliness Alvaro Saborio has displayed in front of goal all season, but strikers sometimes hit these patches. With Fabian Espindola in some doubt with a hamstring injury, Saborio's finishing will be doubly needed.
Managing and exploiting injuries
Heading into the second leg with a few injury concerns won't be exactly what Jason Kreis wanted, but after a grueling season, they were perhaps inevitable. Jamison Olave has spent maybe half the season in the treatment room but could be available, while Fabian Espindola's hamstrings sometimes give him some trouble. With 120 minutes of play a very real possibility, it could open places for Paulo Jr. and Kwame Watson-Siriboe.
But Seattle's facing injury troubles of their own: Eddie Johnson is recovering and may not be ready for a potential 120 minutes, and Mauro Rosales could well be out of contention. It would weaken the Sounders attack significantly, giving RSL a bit more of an attacking bent — but that remains to be seen.
Avoiding extra time
This match could go for a long, long time — 120 minutes and perhaps penalties, should the two sides end things in a draw. Should RSL go through, they'd face LA Galaxy on the road on Sunday, leaving only two days rest before starting back up again.
As such, avoiding extra time would be of a high priority — but still second to winning. This RSL squad is no stranger to scenarios like this one — look to 2009 for an easy example — and that could play into their hands. Still, if RSL can advance out of this without much fatigue, they'll be better for it, and they'll stand a better chance moving forward.
Whether this means taking a few extra risks in the first half and shutting up shop a bit more in the second half or going forward more in attack throughout is hard to say definitively, but Jason Kreis undoubtedly is a man with a plan.
Some big playoff news last night, as LA defeated San Jose 3-1 to advance to the Western Conference Final and Houston held on against Sporting Kansas City to move on to the Eastern Conference Final.
Whichever team advances from tonight’s Western Conference Semifinal second leg between RSL and Seattle will travel to LA to take on the Galaxy in the first leg of the Western Final on Sunday night. If RSL advances, the Claret-and-Cobalt would host the Galaxy in the Conference Final’s second leg on Sunday, Nov. 18.
Houston advancing in the East keeps RSL’s dream of hosting the MLS Cup Final on Dec. 1 alive. The fifth-seeded Dynamo was the only Eastern Conference Semifinalist that finished with fewer regular season points than RSL and – as such – they’re the only side that would have to travel to Rio Tinto Stadium for MLS Cup.
Obviously, there’s a ton of work to be done for RSL to get to that point. First up: Tonight’s Western Conference Semifinal second leg against Seattle at Rio Tinto Stadium. Winner of the match goes through. Kick’s at 8 p.m. MT and a very, very limited number of tickets are still available. We’ll see you out here.