We are almost at the mid point of the MLS Regular Season, so I thought why not take account of where RSL is and what lies ahead if they want to make an 8th consecutive appearance in the MLS Postseason.
As this is being written, Real Salt Lake sits on the outside of the Western Conference Playoff Picture looking in. Through 16 matches, RSL has 21pts, which puts them alone in 8th place in the West and 2pts behind FC Dallas for the 6th and final playoff spot and 8pts out of the top spot in the West occupied by Seattle. There seems to be an overwhelming sense of uncertainty about the current edition of the Club. The sense seems to be that this isn’t the same RSL we’ve been used to and that things are changing. My response to that is, you are correct, this isn’t the same club that went to a pair of MLS Cups, most recently in 2013. Head Coach Jeff Cassar is attempting to put is own stamp and signature on this club, with different looking formations (4-3-3) and integrating new blood onto the pitch.
Change is rarely ever easy and is often met with resistance. It is, however, inevitable and that’s the phase that RSL is in right now. Transitioning in the 2nd year of a new staff and transitioning new philosophies and talent onto the field.
While the RSL fanbase isn’t used to seeing the club on the outside of the playoffs looking in, there are a number of reasons for this and also reasons to believe that the situation CAN change.
Why RSL can still be a contender in the West:
1. We haven’t seen this team healthy and all together yet this year: The fact is we may still be a while away from that with Gold Cup coming up over the next month. However, once international competitions end. There is plenty of talent on this team to contend in the West.
2. Veteran Leadership: There aren’t many if any teams that can trot out the veteran leadership that RSL possesses. Rimando, Beckerman, Beltran, Morales. All four have been part of the foundation of the Real Salt Lake success over the last 7 seasons and all four continue to play at an extremely high level.
3. Attacking Options: Though we haven’t seen it at full strength this season, there are very few teams that have the options in the attack that are at the disposal of Jeff Cassar. Saborio, Plata, the recent emergence of Jaime, Garcia, Sandoval, Allen, Morales, Gil. Are all proven and dangerous weapons for the RSL attack. It’s always good to have options and if healthy Cassar and his staff should have plenty.
Why RSL could be on the outside looking in out West:
1. Fatigue: The club will be involved in both US Open and CONCACAF Champions League play over the next three months. Add that to a busy and difficult league schedule and loaded Western Conference and RSL might come up short of the Postseason. Don’t kid yourself, a deep Open Cup run and the difficulties associated with CONCACAF take their toll on everyone, see Sporting KC last year. Add to that a deep an improved Western Conference and making the playoffs for an 8th year in a row becomes a real chore.
2. Inconsistency in the Back: For all the stability that Real Salt Lake has had at the outside back position with Tony Beltran, Demar Phillips and Abdoullie Mansally. The center back spot has been just the opposite. The injury to Chris Schuler began this situation. Since then it’s been a revolving door of players and combinations in back. To be clear, the play of the RSL Center Backs hasn’t been poor. My theory is that championship caliber teams need consistency especially at that position. RSL needs a healthy Olave and Schuler to stabilize things in front of Rimando.
3. The West: Let’s be real here. The Western Conference of MLS is much like the Western Conference of the NBA, much superior to it’s counterpart in the East. The additions of KC and Houston to the West this year have simply upped the ante for making the playoffs. There’s a very real possibility that a team in the West, perhaps RSL, could have a very good season and still find itself on the outside looking in.
What I like right now with RSL:
1. Justin Glad-The youngster is getting his named called and answering the call well. His composure and soccer IQ is very high for an 18 year old young man. He’s showing glimpses of what the future will look like on the back line.
2. Sebastian Jaime-Played his best game in an RSL uniform and opened his scoring account on Sunday against Sporting KC. His energy and effort at both ends has been much better recently and now the production has begun.
What I don’t like:
1. Alvaro Saborio-Bad body language on the field two weeks ago and a late scratch for “personal reasons” on Sunday not a great sign right now for a team that could use his scoring abilities.
Busy Week this week for RSL…Wednesday night at 5:30 from Harrison, New Jersey against Red Bulls, then back home Saturday night against the Columbus Crew at 8pm. All matches on ESPN 700.
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