Sandy • Real Salt Lake’s season is over. But in some ways, the real work began as soon as the final whistle blew last week in Kansas City.
While the players on the roster take vacations, come off their diets, spend time with their families and recharge for the next two months, the organization’s front office will attempt to beef up the roster for next season.
RSL made the playoffs with a squad that skewed younger. Of the 12 playoff teams, Salt Lake tied with the New York Red Bulls for playing homegrown players the most minutes (8,559) in the regular season. Three players who regularly appeared in the starting lineup — Brooks Lennon, Justen Glad and Aaron Herrera — are only 21 years old.
As the season wore on, what was considered Real’s shortcoming eventually became its homecoming. The youth movement not only worked, it thrived at times. Many on the roster believe the experience of this season will give the team momentum going into 2019.
But for the organization to reach its goal of bringing the MLS Cup back to Salt Lake City, changes might have to be made. Throughout the season, several players operated out of position and the team lacked a true gets-goals-in-his-sleep striker.
Several players, however, think the roster is just fine the way it is.
RSL’S 3 MOST PRESSING OFFSEASON NEEDS
• A striker. Real Salt Lake scored 55 goals in the regular season, but their top scorer, Damir Kreilach, had only 12. While that points to a balanced scoring attack, some the top teams in MLS featured players that scored at least 20.
• More speed in the midfield. RSL normally sent Kyle Beckerman, Sunday Stephen and Albert Rusnák in the midfield to start games, with some late appearances from Luke Mulholland late in the season. Three of those four players are in their 30s. RSL routinely got beat when opponents played through the midfield. Whether the organization moves its current pieces around or looks elsewhere, that area of the field needs attention.
• Players who can finish or defend on corner kicks: RSL had the second-least amount of corner kicks in the league, and did not score often on those set pieces. Conversely, Salt Lake struggled all season defending those types of plays. RSL did not have the size or athleticism to turn set pieces in their favor, so figuring out a way to improve that aspect can pay dividends next season.
“Keeping that core intact will be massive,” Tony Beltran said Wednesday during exit interviews in the lobby of RSL’s team doctor’s office. “The front office has a difficult task ahead because of course those guys are very desirable and I bet everybody in the league would be happy to have them.”
Kyle Beckerman said he thinks the front office will go after a “20-goal” scorer in the offseason, but provided the caveat that every MLS team is looking for a player of that caliber. That could be the biggest need for RSL, though, especially because it played the entire season without a true striker. Damir Kreilach, normally a midfielder, was the team’s top scorer with 15 goals.
To start the season, RSL thought it had a dynamic scorer in Alfredo Ortuño, but that situation didn’t work out. Beckerman said while it would be nice for the team to have a dynamic scorer, nothing is guaranteed.
So if the organization doesn’t acquire a player like that, Beckerman is content running it back, he said.
“I’m fine with the team we have here,” Beckerman said. “We showed that we can compete with the top teams in the league. So I’m happy with what we have here and let this group grow. I’m not going to be down if we bring somebody who can score or has scored 20 goals before. But if doesn’t happen, I’m still ready to go to battle with these guys and feel confident that we can get something done in the season.”
Still, the RSL front office will likely want to find ways to get the team further in the playoffs next season, and that might include finding players with more experience in the league.
Sebastian Saucedo, however, thinks adding new players could throw a wrench into what RSL’s young core spent all season building.
“That’s something us young players are not really happy about,” Saucedo said. “I think we get the opportunity, we get the little candy and it’s just like they let it go right away. I think they bring other players and it’s just like they get the opportunity and we don’t.”
Saucedo acknowledged that he and other young players have to be patient. But he feels that they have been patient enough since their days at the academy and that it might be their turn now.
“Obviously patience is key, but at the same time, I feel like sometimes us players are ready,” Saucedo said. “We just never get the opportunity. At the same time, it’s all about patience. But sometimes you just run out of patience.”
That hunger will remain regardless of the roster moves the organization makes. But if RSL’s front office stands pat, the young core believes it is ready to help the team take the next step.
“We have such a bright group and a lot of young guys that are hungry to get better and better week to week,” Lennon said. “I think next year, I believe that we can go all the way.”