RSL offseason features a familiar need — a striker

Real Salt Lake's Damir Kreilach, front, and Los Angeles Galaxy's Giancarlo Gonzalez chase the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer match, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Real Salt Lake’s offseason started in earnest last week after it lost its final game of the season to Sporting Kansas City. But even though the year on the calendar says 2020, it feels strikingly similar to 2018.

Two offseason ago, RSL was in the market for a striker. At the time, midfielder Kyle Beckerman said the team needed someone who could score 20 goals per season. Midfielder Damir Kreilach led the team in scoring with 12 goals that year.

Other than Beckerman’s comments, the desire for a striker is the same. Kreilach again led all scorers this season with eight goals, but multiple players said publicly that a striker is the RSL’s most pressing need.

“I think that will be fundamental for next season,” defender Marcelo Silva said Monday during a videoconference.

Albert Rusnák and Justin Meram scored three goals apiece in 2020, but neither of them are considered forwards in the pure sense of the position. Of the players who can be described as strikers, five goals were scored between them.

Corey Baird and Douglas Martinez each scored two, and Sam Johnson and Giuseppe Rossi put in one apiece. That accounts for six of the team’s 25 total goals scored this season.

“When your leading goal scorer has eight and your second leading goal scorer — myself and Albert — have three, you need more,” Meram said Friday.

The club thought it found its answer at striker in 2018 with addition of Johnson, a forward who had scored nearly 70 goals before he arrived at RSL. He showed promise in 2019, but injuries and some difficulty integrating with the team held him back.

RSL and Johnson agreed to the termination of his contract shortly before the season ended. He had been suspended from RSL and under investigation by Major League Soccer for hosting at least one 100-person party at his home during a time when the coronavirus was surging in Utah. A person was shot at one of those parties.

So with no Johnson next season, RSL is on the lookout for a player who can score in bunches, and with confidence. Coach Freddy Juarez said Monday that his ideal striker would be one with “above average pace” that allows him to be “always frightening to the opponent.” Someone who likes the ball at his feet and can relieve defensive pressure.

And even if those qualities weren’t present, Juarez said he’d like a player who was practically born to score goals.

“I don’t care how he scores, but he scores,” Juarez said. “He figures [it] out. It’s a craft. It’s something that he’s working on every day. He’ll score with his head, he’ll score with his knee. … They just have a knack for goal scoring in any situation. I think that’s what we need.”

Some players chose not to publicly request certain types of players of the front office. Kreilach was one of them. He said it wasn’t his job to say what positions RSL needs going forward.

Instead, Kreilach conveyed his confidence in the current roster.

“I still think we have one of the deepest rosters in the league,” Kreilach said. “That’s what I believe in.”

Juarez acknowledged that his ideal striker might be very expensive to acquire. Quality players at that position often are. But it’s not lost on the club that the most expedient path to improvement in 2021 is to score more goals.

“We need more attack and we need to be better in front of the goal,” defender Donny Toia said recently. “Simple as that.”