This weekend RSL kicks off their 10th season in Major League Soccer, before they do I thought taking a look at some of the challenges they face would be a good idea.
I know the easiest things to focus on will be the coaching change, an aging roster, limited changes on our roster to keep pace with other clubs making moves, but for me the 2nd full year of ownership by Dell Loy Hansen will actually be the area of greatest concern.
Oh I know some of you will jump on the fact that I am not going to name sources, but with people’s jobs on the line that is just the way it is, so if unnamed sources bother you then stop reading now. First is the issue that DLH is a businessman, and a very good one but his experience with professional sports is none. This is something that can be overcome with a knowledgeable staff and it would be hard to argue that Bill Manning and Garth Lagerwey aren’t among the very best in MLS, but if you hesitate to listen to their advice or if you have trust issues because they were hired by the previous owner, well then you will likely run into issues. I get it, you have bought into an organization but you still feel like an outsider at time because the relationships between Dave and many are so tight (having weathered real storms over the years), I can see how you might not be sure of who you can really trust or not. Clearly there also is the need to be wary given the financial state the team was in when you signed up and over the next couple years as a co-owner.
All of those things when you think about them make great sense, I hope by now that things have become more clear, from the top to the bottom of the organization people have bought into “the team is the star” and the ‘RSL Family” mentality. Fans, players, coaches, front office staff, all have invested a lot into the team, maybe not in dollars and cents, but in passion, in dedication, and all have done so to see the team grow and succeed. I do feel that if the trust issues, they go both ways, don’t get resolved this year (as early as possible) it could really lead to issues on and off the pitch. Players come here because we have something special going on, it is in the locker room, it is in the stands, it is on the pitch and off of it. If you doubt me, talk to guys like Lovell Palmer, or others who have left the team, or talk to the new guys who within a couple weeks learn that something different is happening here than at a lot of clubs. Yeah we have a chip on our shoulders here, small market team, smaller budget than most, years of fighting to get national attention, but never for a moment have we seen that chip be anything than wanting better for the whole of RSL.
Mr. Hansen it is your money and as such you get to do what you want with the club, but understand that every decision at every level impacts the whole, you have fans, players and staff that want nothing more than to see RSL be as great as we all know it can be. You can lead us there, but we must learn to trust each other or things will never be as good as they can be.
OK, on to those other things
RSL will head into 2014 with just the 3rd coach in their 10 year history, and I don’t think it is fair to try to compare Jeff to Jason or John (hmm every RSL head coach has had a name that starts with J, interesting or not). While Jeff may not seem like a fancy move, neither did Jason or John, what Jeff does bring is familiarity with RSL, both on and off the pitch. Since joining team Jeff has been there for both the rough times and the good times, he has had the ability to watch and learn from Jason a first time coach, and I think that makes him better prepared than either of our previous coaches. Perhaps the biggest challenges he will face will be how a complete rebuild of the staff will gel and the loss of the years of RSL specific knowledge that are now gone, and how to manage the coach/player relationship which could be really tough as guys fight for minutes. I expect that he will be able to use his seemingly calm demeanor to communicate even the tough decision with guys on the team. Jeff is taking over a team that has leadership all over the pitch, you won’t find a squad from top to bottom with as much experience with a team as we have, and that gives him support all over the pitch.
Let’s face some facts RSL isn’t getting any younger, we have 7 guys who are over 30 and all of them are regular starters. Last year RSL made some moves to get younger, faster and cheaper, and we saw success on the pitch sooner than many expected. This season the moves are a lot fewer but signing homegrown player Jordan Allen (18) and Luke Mulholland (25) both of whom showed well in the preseason matches that I saw could provide a nice boost of depth after losing, Alvarez, Stephenson, and Palmer. The RSL roster was built in 2009 to make a run at titles, the rebuild in 2013 was again built to make a run. The question is how long can we keep this group together? It is hard to argue that Kyle Beckerman & Nick Rimando, and Javier Morales, all over 30 didn’t have two of their best seasons and two of the best seasons in MLS. Alvaro Saborio dealt with some injuries and a lot of call ups but still managed 12 goals in just 16 matches played last year, and quickly formed a great partnership with Joao Plata that looked very dangerous. Can we see those guys again post banner seasons? It is hard to say but I believe the energy brought in by some of the young guys last year really helped out, and I think we could see that again as more guys push for minutes.
Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Jermain Defoe have joined the ranks of the Mega DP’s in MLS and some have both privately and publicly questioned if RSL may be forced this year to dip deep into their pockets to keep pace with what seems like a talent arms race? Both Alvaro Saborio and Javier Morales are considered DP’s by the current rules, so a 3rd DP would require paying a fee but RSL owner DLH has hinted publicly that if the right player comes along he isn’t afraid to dig into his pockets to bring in a big name if needed. I am not sure who we would get or if there really is a need but having that option sure is a nice thing.
Here is the reality, RSL was simply a couple goals off of an amazing season, a couple points away from making history, but in the end it was a successful season by any measure, RSL became the first team in MLS history (post shootout) to record 4 straight 15 win/50 point seasons, RSL has the longest active playoff streak going (6 seasons), RSL were 3 points away from the supporters’ shield, played for both the US Open Cup and MLS Cup, all of it mighty impressive. The standard is high for RSL with or without Jason Kreis, in our 10th year in MLS, make the playoffs for a 7th straight year, become the first team in history to secure a 15 win/50 point season, win a trophy. They have the talent, they have the passion, now it is just a matter of delivering.
That’s How I See It