Sandy • They reconvened after going their separate ways eight weeks ago. Some went to Brazil for a dry run at this summer’s World Cup with the U.S. men’s national team. Others went home to South America or on vacations. Some stayed put.
But on Tuesday, Real Salt Lake filed into its annual Media Day session prepped for another round of questioning. Decked out in the club’s new uniforms, players addressed last season, the bitter taste of the MLS Cup final loss, the transition from Jason Kreis to Jeff Cassar and what 2014 holds for a team returning 25 players from last season.
With another long season tacked onto its core group — in a World Cup year, no less — does the window stay wide open for a team that has qualified for the playoffs the last six seasons and played for the MLS Cup last year?
“I’m just trying to take care of what I can take care of,” said Cassar, who will make his head coaching debut against the L.A. Galaxy on March 8. “That’s preparing the team to the best of my ability, making sure they’re ready — mentally and physically — and we’ll go from there. I know this group of guys, I know they’re going to be bringing it every day, so it’s now my job to just make sure they’re ready.”
Captain Kyle Beckerman doesn’t necessarily see the aging of the core as a negative. While the likes of Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Nat Borchers, Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio are all over the age of 31, the influence of young players in 2013 allowed RSL to become more dynamic.
“You could look at it as one year smarter, one more year of experience,” Beckerman said. “I think we’ve just got to continue doing what we’re doing.”
Rimando’s offseason was a lightning-quick 26 days before he attended a month-long national team camp with Beckerman and Luis Gil. The three starred in a 2-0 U.S. win over South Korea on Feb. 1 in Southern California. But Rimando, like Beckerman and others, reiterated that the change with Cassar won’t be earth-shattering for the players.
“It’s the same players on the field, same mentality,” Rimando said. “Our head coach has been around for a while — he knows the system, he knows what to expect from these players, so I don’t expect us to miss a beat.”
Cassar’s approach is balancing implementing his coaching style and not introducing too many new tweaks to a club that has cup title aspirations. Yet the former RSL assistant for the last seven years is learning about the move up. After the club’s first training camp stint in Casa Grande, Ariz., last week, RSL jets to Irvine, Calif., for part two of a three-part preseason that ends in Tucson, Ariz., in early March.
“The players have been really receptive to the information that’s been given to them,” Cassar said. “We’ve been working hard, we’ve been smiling and that’s all I can ask for.”
Key preseason dates
Tuesday-Feb. 13 • Training at the University of California-Irvine in Irvine, Calif.
Feb. 17-March 1 • FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup
Feb. 19 • RSL vs. New England Revolution
Feb. 22 • RSL vs. Chicago Fire
Feb. 26 • RSL vs. FC Tucson
March 8 • Season opener: RSL at L.A. Galaxy, 8:30 p.m. MST