CASA GRANDE, Ariz. - RSL had its first training session of the 2013 preseason on Monday night. It was a lighter affair, with the team doing some focused ball work before getting into a pair of fun games.
The first game was basically a possession drill, but instead of using their feet, the players would throw the ball to each other, scoring a point every time they were able to throw a pass and volley with their feet to a teammate. The second game was goofier, with the squad split into two teams for a small sided match. The only catch? Each player (excluding goalies) had a partner that they had to hold hands with throughout the entire match.
Monday's practice was the first as a pro for RSL rookies John Stertzer and Devon Sandoval, both of whom were taken in Thursday's SuperDraft. Though it was a lighter session, it was still a big deal for Stertzer, who had been anxious to step on the field with his new teammates.
"It was definitely a big deal for me with it being my first training," Stertzer said. "The coaches are fun, and it was a good first session. Definitely felt good to get my feet back under me."
It should also be noted that several RSL-Arizona Academy players filled out the roster for the practice session. U-18's Andrew Brody (Committed to the University of Louisville), Ive Burnett (South Carolina), Coco Navarro (Marquette), Benji Lopez (Undecided), Jon Zabasajja (Undecided), U-16 Sebastian Saucedo and former RSL-AZ Academy U-18 Jordan Allen (Virginia; Allen chose to return to his hometown of Rochester, N.Y. to finish his senior year of high school) all participated. Former San Jose and Seattle goalkeeper Andrew Weber also trained with the team.
Expect things to get a whole lot more serious on Tuesday, when the team will undergo fitness testing in the morning and have a more intense practice in the afternoon.
Casa Grande, Ariz. - RSL arrived in Casa Grande, Ariz. on Monday afternoon for the start of preseason camp. Definitely amazing to think that the 2012 season ended a little over two months ago - even more amazing to consider that the 2013 campaign gets started in just under six weeks.
Casa Grande schedule
Head Coach Jason Kreis will put the Claret-and-Cobalt through its first training session of 2013 this evening, directing the team through a light practice that will begin at 5:30 p.m. MT. Fitness testing is scheduled for Tuesday morning, with a second practice planned for later on Tuesday afternoon.
In all, RSL will have 10 training sessions over the course of six days in Casa Grande. The seventh day - next Monday, Jan. 28 - will see the Claret-and-Cobalt take on Denmark's U-20 National Team in the club's first match of the preseason.
RSL shorthanded for first leg of preseason
Real Salt Lake will be without several important players in Casa Grande due to injury and international duty. Center back Nat Borchers (L quad tendon surgery) and left back Chris Wingert (R fractured metatarsal) will both miss the entire preseason due to injury.
Captain Kyle Beckerman (U.S.), 2012 leading scorer Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica) and right back Tony Beltran (U.S.) will all miss the Casa Grande camp while with their respective national teams. It's expected that all three players will rejoin the team for the third and final leg of preseason from Feb. 11-24 in Tucson.
Midfielder Luis Gil (U.S. U-20) did not travel with the team from Salt Lake on Monday. He'll join up with the squad on Tuesday following the conclusion of his U.S. U-20 national team camp. Gil will be back with the U-20's later this preseason for the CONCACAF U-20 World Cup Qualifying Tournament, which will take place from Feb. 18-23.
One player who did travel with the team on Monday is goalkeeper Nick Rimando. Don't be surprised if he misses time later in camp for the U.S.'s Feb. 6 World Cup Qualifier at Honduras, however. Rimando was called up by U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann for the January camp but - after talking with Klinsmann and the RSL staff - declined the invite due to a nagging shoulder injury.
MLS Supplemental Draft on Tuesday
RSL has two picks in Tuesday's MLS Supplemental Draft. Barring any trades, the Claret-and-Cobalt will make one selection in both the third (50th overall) and 4th rounds (69th overall). The team traded away its first and second round Supplemental Draft selections to Philadelphia to move up from 31st to 29th in last Thursday's SuperDraft.
We'll be back with plenty more updates from camp. Stay tuned.
A fun bit of news came out of Costa Rica on Thursday, when it was announced that Real Salt Lake star striker Alvaro Saborio will captain Costa Rica during this month's Copa UNCAF tournament.
is the new captain of the Costa Rican national team.
Saborio, who is currently with the Ticos as they prepare for the Copa UNCAF and for their Feb. 6 Hexagonal opener at Panama, tweeted about the honor, writing (loose translation here, bear with me) that "it's an honor to be captain of la Seleccion" and that he'd do "everything for the good of la Sele."
Muchas gracias a todos, es todo un honor ser capitan de la Seleccion, voy a dar todo como siempre para el bien de la sele...
— Alvaro saborio (@al_saborio) January 17, 2013
MLS's third-leading scorer last season, Saborio will re-join Real Salt Lake after Costa Rica's Feb. 6 game at Panama, linking up with RSL in Tucson, Ariz. for the team's third and final leg of the preseason.
The club's biggest congrats go out to Sabo for the honor. Can't wait until he's back in the Claret-and-Cobalt.
Real Salt Lake selected two palyers in Thursday's 2012 MLS SuperDraft, picking University of Maryland MF John Stertzer in the first round with the 12th overall selection and trading up two spots in the second round to grab University of New Mexico FW Devon Sandoval with the 29th overall pick.
Our Graphic Designer Ben Barnes has been hard at work putting all the information you need to know about Wednesday's MLS SuperDraft picks into a few awesome infographics. Have a look...
RSL traded up for the 29th pick in Thursday's MLS SuperDraft, choosing University of New Mexico alum Devon Sandoval. Sandoval spent a week training with RSL over the summer and obviously impressed the coaching staff enough to warrant a draft pick.
Sandoval was a Second-Team All-American during his senior season with New Mexico, and accumulated 28 goals and 17 assists over the course of his collegiate career.
Real Salt Lake nabbed University of Maryland midfielder John Stertzer with the 12th selection of Thursday's SuperDraft. The 22-year-old Stertzer was a standout at Maryland, appearing in 79 games, scoring 25 goals and notching 13 assists in four seasons with the Terps. He was also a Third Team All-American in his senior season in 2012, when he helped lead Maryland to a NCAA College Cup appearance as well as an ACC Tournament crown and an ACC regular season co-championship.
Check out Stertzer's highlight tape above.
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
Robbie Findley's return to Real Salt Lake marks an opportunity for Jason Kreis to employ a genuinely fast striker for the first time since 2010. More than just raw speed, his arrival marks a chance to facilitate tactical approaches the club's missed out on in his absence.
There's no denying that Robbie Findley is quick on his feet. Some argued during 2011 and 2012 that Real Salt Lake was missing a fast striker, and perhaps they were right. Not so much because the strikers at the club were slow — Espindola at his best flew past defenses, and Alvaro Saborio has been known to have a good burst of pace — but because of the tactical adjustments it involved.
Working Findley into the side requires a shift in approach up front from what the last two years have brought us. With Espindola taking up wide and channel-running positions, the mode of attack became one that relied on running at defenders rather than finding that same sort of space centrally. Findley presents basically that — it's certainly a different approach, and it's hard to prefer one over the other without seeing how it works again more than two years later.
With Findley's pace and acceleration paired with his more central running tendencies, Real Salt Lake would have a definitively speedy option either in the lineup or on the bench. At the very least it provides a sort of nagging thought in defenders' approach, but it's hardly the sort of thing you plan a match around.
There are two major ways quick forwards create space for a side. The first requires little tactical adjustment: Findley pushes forward, forcing one or two defenders to follow alongside. This allows Saborio a bit more freedom as well, which would be a welcome change, considering he was at times presented with two or three defenders against whom he was to hold up the ball.
The space created comes higher up in the midfield, which would leave Javier Morales (or some other attacking midfielder) with more room to create. The major disadvantage this provides would be a susceptibility to offside traps.
The second major method involves Findley dropping deeper and remaining less involved in build-up play as the opposition is drawn deeper into Real Salt Lake's half of the pitch. This naturally involves some risk and requires a high degree of precision in the passing and movement of the side, but when Robbie Findley streaks clear of the last defender and is through on goal with the shooting angles in his favor, the rewards could really rain down.
One major advantage Robbie Findley presents over other forwards is a knowledge of Jason Kreis's management style, his tactical preferences, and what's required in training. The essential pieces of Real Salt Lake's system play strongly into Findley's favor as he looks to pick his career up from its minor slump, and they could well be the key to his finding success at the club once again.
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