So with two team entering MLS in 2015 it is time again for one of the most stressful times for fans, players and staffs of MLS teams, it is no different for Real Salt Lake. In fact with former coach Jason Kreis in charge of one of the expansion sides NYCFC, maybe it is a bit more stressful, this time around as most of the players on our roster are guys that he knows well and many of them are guys he brought to RSL. It should come as no surprise that he has already signed former RSL backup keeper Josh Saunders and former RSL defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe and I expect he will be looking to add more.
One other major fact in the stress levels heading into this expansion draft are the many unknowns of that the roster rules and salary cap might look like next season, with the CBA between the players and league expiring a couple weeks after the expansion draft. There is one thing that should reduce the stress level of RSL fans, the reality is that we can only lose two players via the expansion draft, I guess that is an upside.
So the current RSL roster has 29 players on it, according to the MLS website, but I believe the reality is that Sebastian Saucedo’s HGP deal doesn’t actually kick in until 2015. So if the rules are same as the last couple of expansion drafts, HGP (Home Grown Players) are exempt, so for RSL that would mean the following players are automatically protected:
- Jordan Allen
- Lalo Fernandez
- Justen Glad
- Benjamin Lopez
- Sebastian Saucedo
So either way that leaves 24 players that would be eligible for the expansion draft pool. Current Generation Adidas players are also automatically protected, Luis Gil used to be on the Generation Adidas roster, but I believe he graduated the program a couple years ago.
In the past teams have been allowed to protect 11 players, and when a player is taken a team gets to add another player to their protected list. If a designated player has a no-trade clause that player has to be protected (at least according to the last rules). There are some other additional rules, such as players who are out of contract still have to be protected if you want to keep them but just protecting them doesn’t mean you have to re-sign them. At a high level that is what we know about what will likely be the rules for the expansion draft.
So I started writing this blog post on Sunday night, but I wasn’t sure why I was writing it, until today. I posted that I was pulling for New England to win MLS Cup, there are several reasons but the top one is I think they have an incredible team and I love the style of soccer they have been playing since Jermaine Jones was signed and how it has in large part freed up Lee Nguyen to become the player he is capable of being.
Of course having an opinion on twitter can be dangerous as people started to criticize me because if New England wins MLS Cup Real Salt Lake won’t end up with a Champions League spot. They are right, RSL only gets into the tournament if LA or Seattle win, and we will get their 2nd spot by default since both have already qualified. I went on to say that I didn’t want RSL to be in Champions League next year, because I don’t believe we can win it. The reality is everything that follows is why I don’t want us in that tournament, and in part why I don’t think we can win it. Simply we aren’t good enough, and while the 5-0 loss on Sunday was an anomaly where we played perhaps our worst match of the season and LA played one of their best, the reality is that we simply weren’t good enough to beat them and I don’t think continuing to do what we have in large part done for the last 5 years is the way we get good enough to beat them, to beat anyone who gets in our way of the trophies we should all be passionate about getting.
None of this means I don’t love RSL, or our players but sports is not a place where blind devotion should replace logic or common sense, it shouldn’t be a place where passion replaces intelligence. Being critical actually is a way to show how much you care, because you want, and expect more, you know that better is within reach. You may not agree with me, hell I don’t blame you if you don’t but my opinion is just as valid as those of fans who have for years hated on Saborio, Findley or any other RSL player who doesn’t live up to their expectations. I have so much respect for the guys who play for RSL, because they in large part define what RSL is about, they have lived “The Team is the Star” and they have embraced the idea of the RSL Family. Still we are left with some hard facts and some hard choices, is being consistently good, good enough?
There is little doubt that Landon Donovan is the best player in MLS history, he probably is the best American soccer player to date, and while many fans are torn about him, cheering him in the red, white and blue of the USMNT, while booing him when he is in the various colors of the LA Galaxy, the reality is that love or hate him, everyone respects him. On Sunday Real Salt Lake will look to end his MLS career, and given the history between these two teams over the years both in the regular season and post season it could go either way. In regular season action RSL is 6-8-1 in matches played in LA, a 0-1 loss at StubHub Center in July was the balance for a 1-0 win by RSL there on opening weekend of the 2014 season.
All time these two teams are tied at 11-11-7, after the 0-0 draw last weekend at Rio Tinto Stadium. These two are frequent opponents in the post season, in 2009 it was a PK shootout win for RSL at MLS Cup, in 2011 LA beat RSL in the Western Conference Finals on their way to a MLS Cup win, and last year it was RSL with 2-1 aggregate win in the Conference semifinals on their way to another MLS Cup appearance. So Sunday will be two teams so very familiar with each other than winning or losing is often a matter of inches, shots off the framework or of the fingers of diving keepers are the norm, and it could likely come down to who can punish the other team’s mistakes. RSL have a bit of momentum despite the draw at home, they finished the regular season with two wins and a draw, while the Galaxy finished it with a draw and two losses. RSL gave up just a single goal in their 4 matches in October, while the Galaxy gave up 6, which was very unusual for the Galaxy who ended the regular season with an insane +32 goal differential as the league’s top scoring team with 69 goals scored, and tied for the league’s best defense with just 37 goals allowed. The Galaxy were mighty good at home with a 12-1-4 record, their only loss was opening day to RSL, the amassed 44 goals at home while only giving up 14 goals for a +30 home goal differential.
So what will Real Salt Lake need to do in order to get past the Galaxy and on to the Western Conference Finals for the 5th time in the last seven years (08 ,09, 11, 13)?