The collapse has been well-documented.
Over its final five matches last year, Real Salt Lake failed to score a single goal — in the process costing the team a chance to advance in CONCACAF Champions League play and the Major League Soccer playoffs.
But while much of the offseason talk centered on addressing issues at the forward spot, RSL’s starters up top weren’t necessarily the issue.
“If you took just the top two forwards last year, you had to be pretty happy with the production of [Fabian] Espindola and [Alvaro] Saborio,” coach Jason Kreis said. “But then where did the goals come from after those two?”
The answer: Not many places.
Saborio’s 17 goals were good for third best in the league, behind only then-New York striker Kenny Cooper and San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski. And while Espindola drew criticism for his tendency to drift out wide in the attack, the left-footer still managed to notch nine goals on the year.
After that, goals became scarce.
Midfielders Will Johnson, Luis Gil, Kyle Beckerman, Jonny Steele and Javier Morales combined for 13 goals.
Reserve forwards Paulo Junior and Emiliano Bonfigli combined for just three goals. Seldom-used Justin Braun never got on the scoreboard. None of the three is with Real this year. Neither is Espindola, who was traded to New York in exchange for cash.
The Salt Lake front office kicked off the offseason by trading the team’s second-leading scorer and major contracts in center back Jamison Olave and the defensive-minded Johnson in hopes of freeing up cash to add more firepower to the roster.
“It’s not that we wanted to bring one dominant striker to score 20 goals,” general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “It was: Can we make the entire group better?”
RSL brought back forward Robbie Findley after two seasons away in England. The team added South American speedsters Joao Plata and Olmes Garcia, and drafted a big, physical forward in Devon Sandoval to back up Saborio.
Kreis and RSL will look to get more players involved in the attack this year. “That’s going to mean a lot of running, a lot of commitment from our midfielders,” he said.
RSL certainly saw signs of progress in the preseason. New midfielders John Stertzer, Cole Grossman and Khari Stephenson are three of the seven Real players to score goals during the preseason.
“I do think we saw some evidence that we’re creating more space at midfield and, specifically, you saw more goals from midfielders,” Lagerwey said.
Kreis said he believes this team will score more goals than last season’s, but added this disclaimer: “I think that answers are never given to difficult questions in a preseason. Answers come during the season.”
Real Salt Lake is about to find out.
P Sunday,8 p.m.
RSL at San Jose Earthquakes
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RSL’s top scorers in 2012
Alvaro Saborio • 17
Fabian Espindola • 9
Kyle Beckerman • 4
Javier Morales • 3
Will Johnson • 3