High-profile signings around the league make RSL’s path that much harder
Soccer • Handful of teams add new depth, big talent in chase for Supporters’ Shield.
Published: August 10, 2013 01:48PM
Updated: February 14, 2014 11:32PM
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Clint Dempsey, left, the newest member of the Seattle Sounders FC MLS soccer team, trains for the first time with the team, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, in Tukwila, Wash. At right is Andy Rose. The Sounders will face Toronto FC on Saturday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Sandy • As Real Salt Lake, with a trip to the Open Cup final secure, returns its focus to league play, the landscape has changed considerably.

The summer transfer window closed this week, but not before a number of teams chasing RSL for the Supporters’ Shield bolstered their rosters.

“Everybody’s going from strength to strength,” said Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis. “So we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Houston, RSL’s opponent Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, signed Honduran winger Alexander Lopez as a designated player.

The Los Angeles Galaxy added Panamanian goalkeeper Jaime Penedo. The Colorado Rapids signed not one but two new forwards — former Mexican first division star Vicente Sanchez and 24-year-old Panama striker Gabriel Torres, the team’s first-ever DP.

And, of course, there was Seattle’s acquisition of U.S. captain Clint Dempsey.

“That’s the state of the league right now,” RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy said. “Teams are going to spend big money. Teams are going to add DPs, and not just DPs but guys they have been … keeping their eye on. They’re signing a lot of these guys in their prime, so you’re getting names that maybe aren’t as big worldwide but they’re very good players in their primes from good countries.”

The Dempsey signing in particular can be a game changer, both now and down the road, said RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey.

“Signing players like Clint Dempsey is really good for the league,” he said. “I think he’s the kind of singing who can get more people to watch our league. … Long term, nothing but good things to say about it. Short term, does it make it more challenging? Absolutely.”

RSL sits atop a crowded MLS table, even with New York in points but holding a tiebreaker. With 11 games to go in the season, there are nine teams within five points.

The team added former D.C. defender Brandon McDonald through a trade, but otherwise stayed relatively quiet during the summer window.

“We looked at a number of things,” Lagerwey said. “Part of it is we don’t want to jeopardize our three-year plan. We’ve built this very methodically, and we have a number of young players who are doing really, really well, and I don’t know that we would want to do something that would stunt their development.”

RSL could still make a trade or add a free agent before the Sept. 16 deadline, and Lagerwey said he “wouldn’t rule out a move.”

Kreis said he is happy with how his team is built but would be open to making a move if he felt it was the right one for the club.

“One of our strongest points is how strong the chemistry is and how strong a bond we have in the locker room,” he said, “and when you go adding players and making moves, you’re always taking a chance.”

afalk@sltrib.com

Twitter: @aaronfalk

Houston Dynamo at Real Salt Lake

O At Rio Tinto Stadium (Sandy)

Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

TV • CW30

Records • RSL 11-7-5 (38 points); Houston 9-6-6 (33 points)

About RSL • Team is coming off an Open Cup semifinal win, but hasn’t won in league play in its last three matches. … In each of those three matches, RSL held a second-half lead only to lose twice and tie once. … Captain Kyle Beckerman has a hamstring injury and is 50/50 for the match. … RSL leads the league in goals scored (38) and goal differential (+12).

About the Dynamo • Riding a five-game unbeaten streak across all competition. … Houston has only scored 26 goals in its 21 league matches, but is allowing only one a game. … Will Bruin leads the team in goals and assists with five apiece.