The loss Real Salt Lake suffered to the Seattle Sounders in last year’s Western Conference semifinals may have jolted the team into some realizations.
It was the second consecutive time the team had fallen in the semifinal round of the playoffs, a fact the team is aware of, has spoken publicly about since, and wants to rectify. RSL also finished the regular season only three points behind the Sounders, who went on to win the MLS Cup over Toronto FC.
And when they look back at just how their season ended, some within the organization feel that with some different luck, it could’ve been Salt Lake holding the trophy in the end. That retrospective has GM Elliot Fall thinking a championship might not be too far on the horizon.
“If you are able to build a solid foundation, have a core group of players that you believe in and that believe in each other, and then find the right difference makers that can help you win those games on any given day, you can compete for a championship in our league,” Fall told The Salt Lake Tribune. “And truthfully, I don't think we're that far from it.”
Fall is entering his first season as a Major League Soccer general manager. He had been the assistant GM for the past five years, and was named interim GM after Craig Waibel’s departure last September.
Fall’s role in the RSL front office grew since his time as team administrator in 2010. He said he saw how Waibel, Jason Kreis, Garth Lagerwey and Bill Manning handled the process of team building and learned many lessons along the way.
And while Fall feels mostly settled in to his new job, he also feels the added weigh that comes with it.
“We have a responsibility to this fan base and this community to pour our hearts and souls into this and put a winning team on the field and set this club up for success, both short term and long term,” Fall said. “So there's a lot of added expectation and a lot of stress involved as well.”
But Fall doesn’t see himself drastically changing how things are run in RSL’s front office. Instead, he wants to continue the club’s recent trajectory, which has focused on player development through the RSL Academy and also by bringing in people who haven’t yet reached their peak.
That’s not to say, however, that Fall and his staff — which includes former RSL defender Tony Beltran as assistant GM — won’t bring their own twist.
“I think we're a staff that is both young and hungry, but also a staff that has, for the most part, been in this organization for a reasonably extended period of time,” Fall said. “So we have the benefit of seeing how things have operated and how they've worked, but also being able to bring fresh ideas to the fold.”
RSL officially began its preparations for the 2020 season Saturday, and there’s already talk of heightened expectations for 2020. Fall said Monday that he feels good about the current state of the roster, but he also anticipates adding two more pieces.
“We really like the roster,” Fall said. “We've got a really good group returning from last year. … We’ve got a lot of young pieces that are continuing to grow and continuing to get better. And we'll continue to find the pieces to supplement those guys and help bring the rest of the group up.”
Fall said RSL may just be a difference-making player away from competing for a championship. That player could be one added externally, he said, but it is just as likely that the player already exists on the roster, and all he needs is time for that potential to be realized.
And with the right moves and development in the right spots, Fall doesn’t think it’s crazy that RSL has a shot at the title in 2020.
“I would say we’re doing everything we can to put a roster on the field that can compete for a championship this year,” Fall said. "And then it’s all about that stability and all about that foundation to allow us to raise that floor to the point where every year we can compete for a championship.”