RSL looks to improve roster despite unknown ownership situation

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen and General Manager Elliot Fall during a news conference at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Tuesday Dec. 3, 2019.

Real Salt Lake thought it would make the playoffs in 2020. It didn’t.

RSL thought it had found a striker to help with goal scoring. Now the hunt begins for another.

So with the goals for 2021 and beyond outlined, the club made its first push Monday to achieve them when it announced which players would stay and go. RSL picked up the contract options on eight players and declined the options on four others. Three players — Kyle Beckerman, Andrew Putna and Luke Mulholland — are out of contract.

“It was a disappointing year, a year where we certainly hoped that things would turn out a little differently than they did,” RSL general manager Elliot Fall said via videoconference. “And so as a result, we have to make some tough calls.”

Fall said the the club’s main focus heading into the 2021 season is to get more dynamic and creative in the attacking phase of the game. RSL scored just 25 goals all season, which was tied for fourth lowest in Major League Soccer with D.C. United and Inter Miami.

But with the ownership situation still in flux, RSL may not have all the financial resources available to add a top-level striker, which is what coach Freddy Juarez and several players have said the team needs.

Salt Lake has a designated player spot open with the departure of Sam Johnson, but that position is usually one that an owner has to pay for because it involves discretionary spending. Fall said he doesn’t anticipate adding players that will require those types of funds until the ownership situation works itself out.

But that doesn’t mean the team is completely stuck. Fall said the club is in constant contact with the league on what and where it can spend.

“Suffice it to say we have cap space, we have some some allocation money in reserve that we can use and we have flexibility to make a handful of decisions that we think can really make us better,” Fall said.

RSL exercised the options on some core and potentially foundational pieces such as defender Justen Glad, goalkeeper David Ochoa, midfielder Everton Luiz and forward Douglas Martinez. Forwards Maikel Chang and Tate Schmitt, defender Erik Holt and midfielder Justin Portillo will also return in 2021 for Salt Lake.

Those who may not be back next season include forwards Giuseppe Rossi and Julian Vazquez, midfielder Luis Arriaga, and defender Alvin Jones. While those players’ options were declined, there always exists the possibility of a renegotiation. But aside from Rossi, no one on that list played any minutes with RSL.

Conversations with Beckerman, Putna, Mulholland and others who don’t yet have contracts for 2021 are ongoing, Fall said.

With Beckerman, Fall did not give a timeline on when a decision will be made on the veteran midfielder’s potential return. The situation could play out similarly to how it did last season, with the club giving Beckerman the space to decide what is best for him in regard to playing another MLS season.

“We’ve had great conversations with Kyle,” Fall said. “We want Kyle to be a part of this club for a long, long time to come. What capacity that is in and how that situation works out, I think we all need to continue to have that dialogue and those conversations so that we can create something that works for us, but frankly more importantly, works for Kyle.”

Fall also said conversations are ongoing with Juarez and the rest of his staff to determine their futures with RSL. But he sounded optimistic about Juarez, at least.

“I plan to work with Freddy moving forward,” Fall said. “That is our plan and that’s what I expect to happen.”

Shortly after Fall spoke to media, The Salt Lake Tribune confirmed that assistants Todd Hoffard and Steffen Siebert were let go. The news was first reported by Sports Illustrated.

Hoffard told The Tribune that the club had an option year on his contract for 2021 and that option wasn’t picked up. He said he received a call from Juarez on Monday to inform him he wouldn’t be back. He had just ended his fourth season with RSL, and said he was looking forward to working more with Ochoa.

“I wish them the best of luck,” Hoffard said. “Freddy has been a good friend and colleague all these years and I wish him nothing but the best.”

Suspended by Major League Soccer after allegedly making a series of racist remarks, RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen announced in August that he would sell Utah Soccer Holdings, which includes RSL, Utah Royals FC and the Real Monarchs.