Real Salt Lake players will scatter for their short offseason on Thursday, after finishing exit interviews with management and taking physicals.
The Major League Soccer playoffs ended for RSL last week, when Seattle defeated Real Salt Lake in a two-game aggregate series, 1-0.
RSL finished the regular season as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. But it failed to score in its last five games, including both playoff matches against the Sounders.
After MLS playoff losses in 2010 and 2011 and the failure to advance in this year’s Champions League, Real Salt Lake could face major roster changes over the next two months. But midfielder Will Johnson believes RSL needs “just a few pieces” to remain among the league’s top teams.
“I don’t think we are far away,” Johnson said. “... Some way, we’ve got to put [our] bitter disappointment aside and figure out how we can continue to improve. Every year we’ve gotten better — become more successful. We’ve gotten more points [and] become a better road team. So there are a lot of positives and I think there’s a lot of drive left in this group. If we add a few pieces and manage to find a way to get better next year, we’ll be in a good spot.”
Veteran defender Jamison Olave agrees.
“I feel we played good this season,” he said. “The last game, we missed a lot of opportunities. ... We just need to play like a team. We need to play together. [Playing] that way, we were champions in 2009.”
Specifically, Johnson thinks RSL could use additional depth along its back line, where injuries took a toll this season. An attacking midfielder might help energize the attack, he said. So would some help for high-scoring forwards Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola.
Mostly, however, Johnson hopes RSL can improve from within.
“We all just need to chip in a little more,” he said. “We have the group that can do it, and with a little more competition on the squad, it will push everybody to become a little more aggressive.”
Real Salt Lake opens training for the 2013 season in late January before participating in the Desert Diamond Cup in Tucson. Seattle, New England and New York will also play in the round-robin preseason tournament, which runs Feb. 13-23.
For now, Johnson’s priority is spending time with his family, especially his young daughter.
“Just try and take it easy,” he said. “Get away from the game a little bit. Don’t think too much about it. Refresh mentally as well as physically. Take some time off ... and chill out. We’re so busy during the summer, we miss out on a lot of events — family stuff. So for me it’s going to visit everyone, checking in, catching up, enjoying Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
After the most injury-plagued season of his career, Olave plans to spend most of his offseason in Utah.
“I had a lot [of injuries],” he said. “It never happened in my life before. The first time was now. So I will work hard to keep a strong body.”
— Steve Luhm