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.
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.