What does Real Salt Lake’s roster need? Here’s a guide to the team’s offseason.

RSL brought in plenty of talent last season, but the squad needs some changes to take the next step.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake forward Chicho Arango (9) during the first half of a Leagues Cup soccer matchup against the Seattle Sounders Saturday, July 22, 2023, in Sandy, Utah.

After years of absentee ownership and low spending, Real Salt Lake fans deserved the type of year 2023 ended up being. They showed their appreciation by packing America First Field with sellouts regularly.

RSL upped their ambition in a big way this year, twice breaking their club-record transfer fees to bring in Andres Gomez and then Chicho Arango, while adding to the core around Pablo Mastroeni’s typically combative and competitive squads.

The club looked to be among the best in the Western Conference as Arango settled in this summer, but a season-ending injury to Pablo Ruiz halted things for a bit. They pushed Houston in round one of the playoffs but ultimately fell in penalties. They’ll be among the favorites to finish top four in the West next season.

The foundation for 2024 and beyond is strong. Times are good for RSL.

State of the roster

Head coach: Pablo Mastroeni (since 2021)

Chief soccer officer: Elliot Fall (CSO since 2019, at the club since 2007)

The good

Arango lived up to the hype as an elite goal-scoring No. 9 and attacking fulcrum in his prime. Arango had six goals in 758 league minutes after arriving in a $6 million deal from CF Pachuca this summer.

Arango can play next to another No. 9 or as a lone striker with wingers/attacking midfielders around him. One player who excelled playing around him is rising U.S. youth international Diego Luna.

Luna absolutely took “the leap” down the stretch, becoming creator-in-chief for Real Salt Lake as they pushed to the playoffs. He just turned 20 in September.

U-22 initiative signings Gomez and Nelson Palacio had varying degrees of success, with both players clearly talented and hoping to find improved consistency in 2024. Ruiz is perpetually underrated and is one of the better defensive midfielders in the league.

When fit, this starting XI makes a ton of sense together and can compete across several different tactical looks.

Elsewhere, veteran center back Justen Glad signed a new contract while Andrew Brody, Zac Macmath and Brayan Vera are also on long-term deals. That’s the defensive nucleus all set.

The bad

The squad and foundation for RSL are solid, but outside of Arango and Ruiz, does the group have any other elite players at their positions?

DP attacker Jefferson Savarino didn’t do much to match his contract designation on or off the field. Thanks to Arango joining midseason, the club had no double-digit scorers in MLS play. Luna needs to sustain the leap he took and if Gomez doesn’t take a similar step forward, service for Arango might be dry.

They had only two players start more than 25 games (Glad and Macmath), with Mastroeni using the whole squad but making several changes to the starting XI seemingly every game.

Damir Kreilach currently holds a DP spot but was limited to only 15 starts and four goals as the 34-year-old enters a new phase of his career.

What could change

Danny Musovski is out of contract and held out during the season over a dispute for a potential new deal. It seems likely he’ll depart in free agency.

Savarino wasn’t a snug fit down the stretch, being benched for a lack of defensive effort and feuding publicly on X, formerly known as Twitter, with the team’s social media account.

The infrastructure

Real Salt Lake has upped its spending under new ownership in a big way, typified by the $6 million fee to sign Arango last summer. The academy continues to produce players for the first team, but the club is also active in bringing in young players from elsewhere (like Luna from USL and Gomez from Colombia).

America First Field has one of the most picturesque settings in all of MLS, and when the team is good the fans make it a tough place to pick up points.

Offseason priorities

Move on from Savarino, add a new DP

Savarino had seven goals and three assists last season and his defensive effort was inconsistent at best. That doesn’t fly under Mastroeni.

Assuming Luna keeps his starting spot and Kreilach can give minutes as a second forward again, then the DP spot is best served on another winger, likely one who can be a secondary goal-scoring option to take some burden off Arango.

Add another center back

This is nitpicking, really, because a base answer for any MLS club could be to add another quality center back. Truth be told, the RSL squad is really solid and it’s deep in most positions. The first priority is a high-end DP, but after that, nothing too major is needed.

Glad and Vera are a solid first-choice tandem in central defense, but another rotation/starting-quality option would be welcomed, particularly with how much Mastroeni likes to change the lineup.

Build around the core

Real Salt Lake is firmly in a new era. After years of uncertainty under former ownership and the sale process, the outlook is positive.

Now, the club needs to keep its continuity of Mastroeni, Arango, Ruiz, Glad, MacMath, Brody and more. Build something sustainable, with culture as much as anything.