Herriman • Freddy Juarez and Elliot Fall started the 2019 season with defined roles within the Real Salt Lake organization. Juarez was the lead assistant to coach Mike Petke, and Fall the main assistant to general manager Craig Waibel.
But Petke and Waibel are gone, leaving Juarez and Fall, who each have interim status tagged on their respective coach and general manager titles, the unenviable task of figuring out how to make the club better over the offseason while not knowing if they’ll even have jobs in the coming weeks.
Both Juarez and Fall, however, don’t have much of a choice at the moment. So they’re operating as normal in their respective roles until something changes.
“Until I'm told I'm not the coach anymore,” Juarez said Thursday during his end-of-season media session, “then I'll continue to do as if I am.”
Fall said he feels he’s been empowered to make the decisions a permanent general manager normally would. And while he acknowledged that Petke and Waibel were “key people” within RSL, Fall believes those that worked closely with them are more than capable of filling their shoes for as long as it takes.
“We believe in the group behind those people as well,” Fall said. “And the group behind those people have been as big a part of the process as anybody over the years. And so it's simply, in a lot of ways, next man up. But we're keeping that process in place.”
Fall said he expects the organization to fill the open positions “reasonably quickly" and that club “can’t wait” to make those decision. But he also intimated that there needs to be a modicum of patience.
“The most important thing is to get the decisions right,” Fall said. “And so that’s the process that we’re going through right now.”
Like Juarez, Fall is approaching the offseason with blinders on and focusing on what’s in front of him.
“I’ve honestly tried to put it out of the back of my mind and do the job at hand,” Fall said. “We have jobs to do and we need to do those jobs.”
So with Juarez and Fall’s current mentality that nothing has changed, that means they have decisions to make — and soon. The Major League Soccer trade window goes from Nov. 11-13, the deadline to submit players’ contract offers is Nov. 14, and the deadline to submit the exercising of contract options for players is Nov. 21.
One of the biggest upcoming decisions for the pair might be what to do about the goalkeeper position in the wake of Nick Rimando’s retirement. RSL has two keepers it likes in Andrew Putna and David Ochoa, but neither of them have much MLS experience under their belts.
Putna has played seven total games with six starts, and Ochoa has yet to make an appearance. Both players have spent most of their time with the Real Monarchs.
In reality, there’s no replacing a player like Rimando with just one person, Fall said, adding that he likes the goalkeepers currently on the roster. But he left open the possibility of going outside the organization to find someone.
“We believe we have the best young goalkeeping crop in the country,” Fall said. “Does that mean we won't bring somebody in to supplement that group? No, it doesn't.
“We're going to enter preseason for the first time in 13 years without a clear starter in goal. So we're going to have a competition. We're going to let the best player win. And we believe that that will be to our benefit in the long run.”
Midfielder and designated player Albert Rusnák said during his exit interview that he didn’t expect the same players to show up for the 2020 preseason as the ones RSL fielded in 2019. That was mostly due to the fact that several players are either out of contract or entering an option year.
One of those players is Sebastian Saucedo, who recently told The Salt Lake Tribune that he was out of contract and currently without a team. Saucedo said there are “offers everywhere,” but his main priority is to stay with RSL.
“I want to stay here at Salt Lake,” Saucedo said. “My family’s here. My wife’s from here. Her family’s here. If they give me the right offer to match, then yeah, why not. I’ll stay here.”
Some recent posts on Saucedo’s social media accounts have suggested that he could already be leaving RSL — most notably one on his official Instagram that shows him heading to a plane with luggage where he wrote a caption that reads, “Thank you for everything RSL nation.”
Saucedo, however, said fans should not read too much into those posts, and reiterated his desire to stay with RSL, where he’s spent the last six years and for which he was a homegrown signing.
While Saucedo feels frustrated with his role and thought his 2019 could have gone better, both Juarez and Fall said they had a positive exit meeting with him. Juarez said the team is happy with Saucedo and that he is still growing as a player.
Fall seemed open to having Saucedo return.
“There’s certainly a place for Bofo here,” Fall said, referring to Saucedo’s nickname.
Several RSL players said during their exit interviews that the club needs more depth if it wants get deeper in the playoffs next year. Rusnák said it needed "top quality players.”
Fall didn’t disagree with Rusnák assessment, but also said he expects some of the younger players to improve and assume bigger roles next season.
“We expect there to be steps forward internally as well and there to be guys that can step into bigger roles and can be more effective in those roles,” Fall said. “So I think it’s a combination of both. Albert’s not wrong. Yeah, we want to look to bring in players that can help us. That’s our jobs. We try to do that all the time.”