Given Real Salt Lake’s current lot in life, how easy would it be right now to hit the waiver wire and pick up a talented player?
It might go against RSL’s whole “the team is the star” mantra that is also the brand it has stamped on Major League Soccer.
However, if Real Salt Lake wants to remain competitive in a rapidly improving MLS, they may have to think hard about it.
A move probably isn’t likely until the MLS transfer window officially opens on July 15, but it could be undoubtedly necessary by then, unless RSL regains its pre-CONCACAF Champions League Final form before.
Here’s why: midfielder Javier Morales is on the shelf from a broken ankle for at least four months, thanks to a “professional” reckless tackle (the player in question, Chivas USA midfielder Carlos Mondiani received a four-game suspension for his efforts) and RSL is now left without one of its better players and is now reeling.
How the team got to this point is both a study in engineering and a lesson for all. The moral of the story? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, especially when several are slightly fragile to begin with.
The loss to Monterrey
Rio Tinto Stadium was home to one of the more forgettable games to RSL fans, the CONCACAF Champions League final. It’s important to remember that the club had carefully engineered this run to the biggest crown jewel in North America–though the winner only got $500,000–and the prize would be a ticket to the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, later this winter.
The two-leg loss to the Rayados snapped the team’s oh-so-long unbeaten streak at the palace Dave Checketts built, and destroyed RSL‘s plans for a title.
Monterrey wasn’t exactly a gracious visitor, either; their coach was an ass and the players disrespected everything about RSL from the time the club got off the plane in Mexico to the moment the final whistle blew in Sandy.
Yes, the Rayados had more talent; that was obvious even in the first game in Monterrey, when the Rayados passed around and through RSL like they were standing there.
If not for a huge late goal from the now-injured Morales in the first leg, we wouldn’t be standing around here talking about what a duffer the second CCL final leg was, now would we?
Let all the scenarios unfold
Lesser MLS teams have absolutely splintered and disintegrated after such a loss. For an example of how hard some RSL team members took the Monterrey loss, forward Fabian Espindola was reportedly inconsolable for days afterward and two weeks later, he still has not taken the field.
Does that mean Espindola’s out of here when the transfer window opens in July? At the moment, with all the injuries, Espindola is the best attacking player RSL has.
Herculez Gomez might be available, and he’s probably an RSL type of guy, but he won’t be cheap.
Same with Jose Torres, but you would have to think that Arturo Alvarez and possibly even Paulo Junior would have to go in the deal, because Torres is too expensive at the moment for a one-for-one swap, even with Pachuca (Mexico) holding what amounts to a fire sale of its players.
When the going gets tough, however, and this following paragraph will have a lot of clichés, so fair warning, winners usually don’t point fingers and pout; they buck up and buckle in for the long ride back to respectability.
Espindola did all of the former, causing a scene which the club politely handled and buried somewhere, in a spot where the people who put down Jimmy Hoffa might know.
Nobody actually knows what was said, for example, between Espindola and head coach Jason Kreis, leading up to Kreis’ decision to sit Espindola. It probably involved, knowing the two, tempers and possibly a few choice words were hurled in either’s direction.
Is it a sign of something bigger, that Espindola, who is busting his butt up and down the pitch game in and game out and not scoring goals, decided to take a rest?
We do live in a world where players often supercede the coach, or think they do, anyway.
Lack of creativity
The lack of creative play coming from the middle of the pitch into the attacking third has been nothing short of abysmal lately.
The only goal scored in the last four matches came from a header off of a set piece.
To make matters worse, no combination of players, be it old, new or anywhere in between, has worked.
Kreis has tried everything from inserting Paulo Junior, who many thought would have a breakout year and hasn’t, due to a nagging hammy, to keeping Alvaro Saborio shelved during the week’s practices at Xango Field and bringing out the hobbling veteran and club’s DP only on the weekends.
Then there’s Espindola, who lately has been a player only Sigmund Freud would love, if the great shrink was coaching soccer and happened to be alive.
Even Haitian Jean Alexandre has been inserted up top, from his usual role in midfield. But the only goal in the last three games came from Will Johnson, whom the club loses to international duty (Canada) sooner than it would like, given the current situation.
The final verdict
Real Salt Lake is still a very dangerous team. In fact, its goalkeeping is the best in MLS. Nick Rimando has continued to be one of the best, if not the best, with only two goals allowed over nine league games.
The defense is again tough to score on, with behemoth central backs Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers providing the muscle. Out wide, Robbie Russell, Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran provide the searing runs into opposing thirds, though the runs seem to lack RSL’s usual imaginative flair and purpose.
The diagonal runs into space from defensive positions is something for which the club is notorious and that normally expose an opponent’s back-pedaling defense. That said, it has not resulted in almost a month in the clinical finishing that fans are accustomed to seeing.
Even the crossed balls, which result from not only from the through balls, but flighted balls over the top of opposing defenses, has slowed to a crawl.
These still happen from time to time, but not nearly at the propensity and with the timing as before.
A good flighted ball into the six-yard-box is now mistakenly headed over the crossbar, or worse, missed entirely, whereas before, those balls seemed to have more fervor and velocity and the headers were more clinical.
Whatever creative juices were flowing–and they had to be against a game Monterrey squad in Mexico–the over-the-top balls and control of the ball itself have become non-existent through the second half of the CCL final in Sandy up to now.
That said, if you’re a true RSL fan, you could see chinks in the team’s armor from the way the Rayados controlled possession in the first half of the first leg and made RSL beat them in Mexico the only way the claret knew how, with a late-minute goal.
What must RSL do to stay up near the top of MLS and the Western Conference, and, how do they recover in time so that they can make a run at the U.S. Open Cup?
The first thing is finding a replacement for Morales. The two logical candidates outside of snagging Torres and/or Gomez, are inserting Collen Warner and Ned Grabavoy. Both have played as creative midfielders for portions of the season, including stretches during CONCACAF Champions League.
The Open Cup represents the next best chance for RSL to eventually get its revenge on Monterrey, and qualify for the next CCL.
That comes in late June. Until then, RSL has to find a way to score goals, and fast.