The first MLS event of the new year is the MLS Draft, that will take place on Jan 14th in Baltimore and the questions for RSL heading is simple:
How to rebound from a disappointing 2015? The worst year for the team since 2007 left fans wondering what happened. In a single season RSL went from a +15 goal differential and finishing 3rd in the West and 4th place overall in MLS to a -10 and a 9th place finish in the West, 16th overall. Offense was down as RSL scored just 38 goals, our defense gave up 48 goals our highest number since 2006. Missing the playoff for the first time since the move to Rio Tinto in 2008, what was the longest streak in MLS. Also gone was the 5 year streak of 15 wins and 50 points, what I consider the new gold standard for MLS regular season success. The one positive (for most) in the 2015 season was qualifying for the knockout rounds of the CONCACAF Champions League tournament, which provides RSL with a bit more allocation money and pressure to try to once again make a run at being the first MLS team to win it all.
To recover from that disappointing season will require RSL to become dominant at home again, a 7-4-6 record at home is simply unacceptable. It will have to start with offense, just 22 goals scored by RSL at home which is down 11 from the 2014 season. RSL seems to have addressed this issue with the soon to be announced signing of Yura Movsisyan back to RSL. Also boosting the RSL offense should be a healthy Joao Plata who saw his 2015 minutes drop by over 500 from the 2014 season. Another boost should come from Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez having a full preseason with RSL, we saw the glimpses of what he could bring to the table, now we need him to deliver a full portion.
As good as those things are, and they are very good, there is still a nagging issue, as I think RSL will need to make a big move to fill a void in the midfield left by the departures of Luis Gil and Luis Silva, at 36 years old Javier Morales as good as he can be isn’t getting any younger. While RSL has the 5th pick in the MLS draft, getting a match ready player is unlikely so can GM Craig Waibel find someone to help Javi out? Could that be a position we see Jordan Allen get time at? While thought of more as a outside player, I think his pace and skill on the ball might be the touch RSL needs to help Javi out. For years RSL has depended on Javi to save us, in return he has become one of the most fouled players in MLS. In 2015 he had 8 goals and 12 assists, meaning he was involved in over 50% of all RSL goals, we have to find more weapons to relieve the pressure on him.
Away from Rio Tinto, RSL was simply awful on defense, they allowed 34 goals in 17 matches, the most in a decade (41 in 2005). In goal RSL is as good as they come with Nick Rimando and Jeff Attinella, but with the new formation the pressure on the backline was simply more than they could handle. A big part of that was losing Chris Schuler to injury, he played in just 5 matches for RSL and that left a huge void. The returning Jamison Olave who attempted to fill the void left by the departure of Nat Borchers, simply wasn’t up to expectations with 3 red cards and just 22 matches played. This thrust guys like Elias Vasquez, Aaron Maund and youngster Justen Glad to try to fill the void and it was simply asking too much of them. The only real bright spot of the year for the backline was the emergence of Tony Beltran as one of the best outside backs in the league. The backline has to be the top priority of the RSL front office and coaching staff to address in the offseason, there are some interesting potential draft picks, but again RSL must find at least 2 quality players who can start and play at the MLS level or it could be another long season.
It seems so simple doesn’t it? Score more and give up fewer goals, win more at home and lose less on the road. Soccer is an easy game but MLS is becoming a much more talented league, and things are anything but easy if you want to remain an elite team in MLS. The drop from dominance has been quick, from a 2013 season where RSL competed in the finals of both the US Open Cup and the MLS Cup to 2015 where we simply couldn’t compete with the best. I have often pointed blame at the top, but now with all his own selections in place, this is truly Dell Loy’s team, can he deliver with his choices for coach, GM, and all his captains in various roles and return RSL to one of the top spots in MLS? Time will be the judge but 2016 is a season with a lot more questions than answers with just a few weeks before the team enters CCL action.
That’s How I See It