Real Salt Lake retains its core but everybody else is new
Most of the core players that Real Salt Lake has sought to keep together in recent years were still around when the team opened preseason training Thursday for its eighth season in Major League Soccer.
It's just everybody else that was new.
For the first time in a long time, RSL will open a season with a drastically renovated roster even if the changes are almost all among the reserves. And that leaves a lot of questions for a team that still hasn't enjoyed the ultimate payoff for its long admired philosophy, beyond the 2009 MLS Cup.
"It's going to be different," coach Jason Kreis said. "There's no doubt about it."
Nine of the 27 players who took the field for RSL last season are gone. In their place? Six draft picks and six trialists in addition to a new emergency goalkeeper hoping to earn a place on a team that hasn't changed its goals despite the roster turnover.
"Expectations are always the same," midfielder Will Johnson said. "We still have a heck of a lot of good players here. We want to compete for a championship. We want to do well in the Champions League again. Anything less than being an elite team in this league would be a bitter, bitter disappointment."
That's a good description of the way last season ended, come to think of it.
The team lost to the rival Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS Western Conference final, after a regular season wracked by injuries to many of their best players. That problem hasn't disappeared, either, with five starters sitting out the camp-opening fitness tests on Thursday.
Forward Alvaro Saborio and defender Nat Borchers could miss the start of the season, Kreis said, while recovering from offseason surgeries, though Johnson and fellow midfielder Kyle Beckerman should be back from muscle strains in the next couple of weeks, with plenty of time before the season opener at Los Angeles on March 10.
"You never want to start off a season with five or six guys who are having to rest," Kreis said, "but I also know that it's an extremely long season and an extremely long preseason. We still have six weeks in front of us before our first match."
Midfielder Javier Morales is expected back in about a week, too, after having surgery to remove bone spurs in the same ankle he had shattered by a horrible tackle last season. They had bothered him for years long before his devastating injury and their removal has coaches hoping the 32-year-old playmaker is better than ever.
"I'm ready to go," he said.
So is defender Jamison Olave, slowed at the end of last season with a quadriceps injury. The hulking Colombian declared himself fully fit, while forward Fabian Espindola expressed relief that RSL picked up a two-year option on his contract that will keep him with the club through 2013.
"I'm happy, now," he said.
Among the nine players departed since last season, veteran midfielder Andy Williams retired to join the coaching staff, midfielder Collen Warner was lost in an expansion draft to stock the Montreal Impact, and defender Robbie Russell was traded to DC United.
That leaves coaches searching especially for depth in the midfield and another outside back to replace Russell in a rotation with Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert.
Kreis hopes they have it, among all those new guys.
"We feel like we probably have a stronger group from the bottom up than we've had in years past," Kreis said, "and we're certainly going to need it."
MF • Andy Williams
MF • Jean Alexandre
MF • Collen Warner
MF • Arturo Alvarez
MF • Nelson Gonzalez
D • Blake Wagner
D • Robbie Russell
D • Rauwshan McKenzie
GK • Tim Melia
F • Emiliano Bonfigli
F • Oliver Kupe*
MF • Enzo Martinez
MF • Benjamin Ubiera
MF • Sebastian Velasquez
MF • Wes Knight
MF • Lewis Neal
D • Diogo de Almeida
D • Samir Bengelloun
D • Leone Cruz
D • Jonny Steele
D • Terukazu Tanaka
GK • Lalo Fernandez
* Will join team after he finishes college
RSL key dates
March 10 • Season opener at Los Angeles Galaxy
March 17 • Home opener vs. New York Red Bulls