Sandy • If you’re a Real Salt Lake supporter, you can digest what transpired this week — or rather, what didn’t — a couple of ways.
1. You can pitch a fit, seeing clubs around Major League Soccer signing players from around the globe in the summer transfer window that closed Wednesday night as those clubs, in theory, got better ahead of the stretch run.
2. You play 2018 out with the roster you hope is far along enough with a growing boon of homegrown academy players and pray falling one measly point short of the postseason in 2017 will help RSL’s future-is-now approach. Find a way into the playoffs and let the chaos just happen, right?
The transfer-or-trade news RSL fans salivated for never came. So why did RSL, smack-dab in the middle of a heated race for the MLS Cup postseason, stand pat?
“In fairness, we didn’t choose to stand pat, I assure you,” RSL general manager Craig Waibel said. “We pursued quite a few players. It was a pretty narrow search, in terms of what we were looking for for the team in terms of attacking pieces.”
Translation, and this is no stunner: RSL was on the prowl for a center forward, what’s conceived as the final piece to the club’s ongoing rebuild. Waibel declined to mention specifics, but it’s clear that was the priority. At the moment, RSL (10-9-4, 34 points) has relied on rookie winger-turned-striker Corey Baird and a converted attacking midfielder-turned-forward in veteran Luis Silva. Together, they’ve combined for 10 goals this season.
Now RSL presses on, its long-term plan still in place, but minus the goal-scorer the fan base has waited on through the way-too-short-lived eras of Sebastian Jaime, Yura Movsisyan and Alfredo Ortuño. A worst-case scenario, however, is a couple of injuries to Baird and Silva at the same time, although Silva has returned to training after dealing with a muscle issue.
What then? Fact is, MLS teams can still bring in players from anywhere in the world before the roster freeze on Sept. 14. But they have to be free agents, out-of-contract players who are currently without a club. Dicey, sure. But it worked out wonderfully for RSL once when it brought in former winger Burrito Martinez after the summer transfer window closed in 2015.
RSL could also promote from within its USL club, Real Monarchs. Waibel singled out forwards Chandler Hoffman — who already has announced he will leave the organization at season’s end to join the expansion USL Birmingham Legion in his hometown — and Maikel Chang as standouts for the Monarchs so far.
“We’re very conscious not to stunt the growth on behalf of bringing in something that isn’t special or someone that isn’t special,” Waibel said. “We still have choices to make. There’s still some players out there who are out-of-contract, and whether or not we can attract them here for an amount of time, that’s kind of the conversations we start having today.”
According to MLS sources, RSL was in the mix for a couple of young strikers overseas. During his unveiling at French club Le Havre on Wednesday, 22-year-old Tino Kadewere mentioned he had a standing offer from RSL. Kadewere made the jump from Swedish club Djugardens to Le Havre for $2.5 million. Sources also said RSL was interested in Luka Zahovic, a 22-year-old striker at NK Maribor in Slovenia. Waibel declined comment on reports Wednesday that MLS negated a potential deal for 24-year-old Paraguayan winger Osmar Leguizamón.
And as reported by MLSSoccer.com on Wednesday, Atlanta United was in pursuit of RSL right back Brooks Lennon, but talks never went anywhere. Lennon is one piece of the young RSL core the franchise wants to keep intact. And if they are to get RSL into the playoffs, it’ll be because the young guns took their next desired step.
Captain Kyle Beckerman said the goal is not just to qualify for the playoffs. RSL has to build something that can last as it once did.
“I think that we have a team that can make the playoffs and we feel like once you get in there, anything’s possible,” he said. “But it’s going to be a big step for us if we’re going to get to the playoffs, so we’re going to have to do something a lot of guys haven’t done.”
Lennon agrees: “Last year, we all know we came so close,” he said. “I think we’d started our run, but it was a little too late. Now, we have the mentality of, if not now, then it’s never going to happen.”
RSL coach Mike Petke declined to speak to reporters after training Thursday.
You fans desperate for a new player with a new jersey might be waiting a bit longer. It’s still possible, but as always stated, it won’t be at the expense of detracting from the development of what’s already been set in motion.
“For the sake of the club and the future of the club and the core unit of the team,” Waibel said, “we feel like the experience that these young guys are getting this year is essential for the continued growth of RSL.”
Montreal Impact at Real Salt Lake
At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
Kickoff » 8 p.m.
TV » KMYU
Radio » 700 AM
Records » RSL 10-9-4, Montreal 9-13-2
Last meeting » Impact 3-1 win at home (Aug. 19, 2017)
About Montreal » Despite being tied for fifth place in the East, the Impact have a minus-10 goal differential in 2018. … Montreal is 2-9-1 away from home this season. … Montreal signed former Arsenal fullback Bacary Sagna and acquired forward Quincy Amarikwa from San Jose and midfielder Micheal Azira from Colorado. … Midfielder Ignacio Piatti leads the Impact with 11 goals and nine assists.
About RSL » After its win over Chicago last weekend, RSL sits at 34 points and in sixth place in the West, four points clear of seventh-place Vancouver. … RSL is 9-1-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium this season. … Midfielder Damir Kreilach, who scored both goals against the Fire, is tied for team-lead in both goals (six) and assists (six). … The home match against Montreal is followed by three straight road games at LAFC, Houston and Colorado before returning home to face the L.A. Galaxy on Sept. 1.