Listen, I can’t pretend to know all that is involved in the various tasks that MLS has to complete each year to get ready for their season. I know that list has to be mighty long and extensive, and that with the season ending later and starting sooner that time is at a premium for the many tasks that need to be completed. That being said, we are days from the start of the 18th season for MLS and as I think back over the 3 months of the off-season, I am left scratching my head at some of the things that are left until the last minute.
So let’s start with perhaps one of the biggest issues most fans have during the off-season, the following year’s schedule. In mid-December the league announced the home openers for each of the 19 teams in the league, then some 3-4 weeks later they announce the rest of the schedule. Why? Do they not know the remaining matches in December? Or are they trying to milk the off-season lack of news by making two announcements out of one bit of news? I doubt the NFL will wait until 60 days before the start of their season to announce their 2013 schedule, the MLB 2013 schedule has been available since September of last year, before their playoffs even started, and doesn’t start until the end of March. Come on MLS, just announce the schedule and do it when it is completed, make one big announcement and let the fans start planning their vacations and away trips. Oh and bring back the balanced schedule, I know you can make it work, and I think a lot of fans would really appreciate it.
How about the roster rules, sure the teams knew them, but MLS updated their website with the new rules just 4 days before the start of their season. This is something used by the media and helpful even to fans when looking at your teams roster. So did MLS not know what they were doing until yesterday, or did they just not bother to update things? We see the same thing with team media guides, now I understand that until the pre-season is almost over that lots of things can change in these documents, but there is still no source for them and we are 3 days away from the start of the season.
So it has been a very active off/pre-season for Real Salt Lake, the roster moves top any of the previous off seasons both in quantity and quality of players impacted. The team was forced to take a long, hard look at both how to get under the MLS salary cap, RSL would have been about 1 million over without major changes, as well as how to become a better team on the offensive side of the ball.
The latter goal became evident when the history of “big” games at Rio Tinto Stadium was examined, despite being the better team in the 2008 Western Conference final against the New York Red Bulls, a 1-0 loss. The same could be said of the 2010 playoff match against FC Dallas a home draw but a series loss, the 2011 Champions League final against Monterrey, a 1-0 loss, and the 2012 playoff loss to the Seattle Sounders, another 1-0 loss. 2012 saw RSL score 46 goals, but 7 of the 10 playoff teams has as many or more goals scored than did RSL. It was no surprise that only one striker, Alvaro Saborio, remained with the team after the season, his 40 goals in MLS action over the last 3 years is only surpassed by San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski.
So the talk after last season for Real Salt Lake was the need to get cheaper (a million over the salary cap) get faster (something lacked since the departure of Robbie Findley) and to get younger (RSL had 9 players 29 or older in 2012), and how do we score goals in the big matches, so how did RSL do in the off season?
RSL traded Jamison Olave (expensive – $250K, old – 32, but very fast) and Fabian Espindola (not expensive – $125K but I believe was due a large raise for 2013, not so old – 27, and not fast but quick and very high energy) to the New York Red Bulls in exchange for a large chunk of allocation money. Then RSL traded Will Johnson to the Portland Timbers (expensive – $245K, young – 25, and like Fabi not fast but quick and very high energy) for allocation money. RSL also released a number of players like Kyle Reynish (expensive for a limited role back up GK – $75K & due a raise, age – 29, speed doesn’t matter much for GK’s), the team also released 3 strikers (Justin Braun, Paulo Jr. and Emiliano Bonfigli) all who were under 25, cheap, and varying speed.