After Real Salt Lake hit its option-exercise deadline Monday, a question mark loomed over the goalkeeper position.
RSL holds just one goalkeeper under contract, 23-year-old USL standout Connor Sparrow. RSL declined the contract option on backup goalkeeper Matt VanOekel, and starter Nick Rimando — whose contract expired after the 2017 season — is still in talks with the team.
There’s no sense of panic at this stage of roster evaluation, but Sparrow’s loneliness in that position does highlight how much negotiations with Rimando will cause a ripple effect.
“We need to find out if there’s an end-line that we can agree to,” general manager Craig Waibel told The Salt Lake Tribune, “and both sides are certainly interested in making that work.”
Should those negotiations fall apart, the front office will have two open goalkeeper spots to fill. But even if RSL is optimistic about the negotiations, Waibel said the team will wait until it has reached an agreement with Rimando before it makes any other goalkeeper decisions.
If RSL does not reach a new agreement with VanOekel, he will be eligible for the MLS Waiver Draft.
VanOekel was one of seven players whose options RSL did not pick up. The list is riddled with injuries. Chad Barrett, Omar Holness, Justin Schmidt and Ricardo Velazco all underwent season-ending surgery this year. Defenders Chris Schuler and Raegan Dunk also had their options declined.
RSL has exercised the contract options on four players: David Horst, Luke Mulholland, Sunday Stephen and Sebastian Saucedo. Mulholland and Sunny each made 20-plus appearances this past season, most of which were starts. Horst served as a reliable backup at center back, and Saucedo regularly had strong showings off the bench.
In addition to Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Chris Wingert are out of contract entering the offseason and meet the requirements for free agency. However, Waibel has been open about prioritizing discussions with Beckerman and Rimando. Brooks Lennon’s loan from Liverpool also ran only through this season.
RSL re-signs Demar Phillips
Real Salt Lake also announced that it has re-signed left back Demar Phillips.
“I’m happy to come back and looking forward to next season,” Phillips said in a team release. “I bring hard work and dedication and I’m looking forward to new challenges and having our first preseason with Mike Petke.”
The international player originally signed with RSL in 2015, making his MLS debut on March 14, 2015, against Philadelphia. Phillips, 34, has made 60 appearances since, but this season a hamstring injury sidelined him for over two months. When he returned to health, Danilo Acosta had claimed the starting spot at left back.
Phillips came off the bench in RSL’s final two matches. He started in all 11 of his other appearances this season.
“When Demar’s been healthy the last couple years he’s been a starter, so we expect that same intensity and approach from him,” Waibel said. “As we monitor Danilo’s growth and experience, it’ll be a healthy battle between these two guys. You’ve got the young kid versus the wily veteran, and both of them bring different things. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a combination of both of them used next year.”
Phillips, a Kingston, Jamaica native, has 72 caps with the Jamaican national team.