So we have come to the final part of our RSL roster review as the team heads into the 2016 season, in part 1 we looked at keepers and forwards, in part 2 we looked at the midfield. Now we will look at the defenders, an area where RSL struggled with injuries, new players and of course our adjustment to a new formation. 2015 was not a good year for the RSL defense, the 48 goals allowed was the 3rd worst total in RSL history and the highest number since the 2006 season.
Defenders – This position has the most questions heading into 2016, here are the current players on the roster
- Tony Beltran – The only thing close to a consistent player on the back line in 2015, Tony actually had one of his best seasons and continues to distinguish himself as one of the best outside backs in MLS. Tony started the most matches(31) and played the most minutes(2774) of any RSL player in 2015, his play was one of the highlights of the 2015 season. I think we can expect more from Tony in 2016 as he continues to be more and more of a leader on the pitch and the on the backline.
- Jamison Olave – Most of us were surprised when RSL brought Olave back, but after losing Nat Borchers the team needed a proven CB and Olave is that. Unfortunately 2015 was a mixed bag with Jamison, he had moments where we got those highlight reel defensive saves and bursts of near superhuman speed, but we also got 3 red cards and with a few injuries. With just 22 matches played in 2015, the 2nd lowest total of his MLS career, we can only hope that after signing a new contract in the off season that we will get a bit more action on the pitch and fewer red cards from Olave in 2016.
- Aaron Maund – The early season injury to Chris Schuler pushed Aaron into the spotlight and the result was him seeing more action in 2015 than in his previous 3 years in the league combined. As the season went along Aaron continued to develop into a better player, and provided much more than was expected of him when the season had started. Can he build on that in continuing to become a better defender and claim the #2 CB spot on the RSL roster? 2016 could be a huge year for Mr. Maund.
- Justen Glad – 2015 finally saw Justen get first team minutes with RSL as he split time between RSL and the Monarchs. At just 18 (he will turn 19 before the 2016 season) he showed why both fans and coaches are so excited by his potential. I expect that he will continue to develop both physically and professionally in 2016 and he could be fighting for minutes and that #2 CB spot with Aaron Maund.
- Abdoulie Mansally – It is hard to believe that 2016 will be his 11th season in MLS, as he turns 27 later this week, but it is and while it was a bit of hit and miss season for him in 2015 as he battled for starts at left back for RSL. He had 14 starts and 19 overall appearances last year, he also scored a goal and added an assist to go along with his tireless work on both sides of the ball. I think he is another player who the adjustment to the 4-3-3 formation was a bit rough, as the duties of the backline became much more critical with the new formation. 2016 will likely see him battling with Demar Phillips for the #1 left back spot.
- Demar Phillips – Expectations were very high when RSL brought in Demar, and while we saw glimpses of brilliance, there was little consistency in 2015. With blistering pace and great crossing ability, it is clear to see why RSL decided to bring him back for another season as the team continues to figure out the 4-3-3 formation and what that means for our backline. The combo of Demar and Abdoulie will need to step it up in 2016 on the defensive side of the ball as RSL looks to get that number of goals allowed down.
- Boyd Okwuonu – RSL’s first round pick in the 2015 MLS draft, spent most of the season with the Monarchs where he had 12 starts and over 1,000 minutes, he did see action in 3 first team matches as well. I expect 2016 will be a year where Boyd continues to adjust to MLS as well as the RSL system, but he showed promise and could be a player to keep your eyes on.
- Phanuel Kavita – Signed in 2015 as a Homegrown player, like Boyd he spend most of the season with the Monarchs where he had 18 starts, he also got a taste of the first team with 2 appearances. RSL had originally not picked up his contract but like Demar Phillips he was resigned a couple weeks ago as RSL looks to fill out their roster and add much needed depth and options on defense.
- Danilo Acosta – signed this offseason as a HGP (Homegrown Player) from the RSL academy, this young CB will likely spend a lot of time with the Monarchs. “He’s another versatile player that can play a little bit at center back and a little bit at defensive mid,” Real Salt Lake Head Coach Jeff Cassar said. “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for him to get himself as close to Kyle Beckerman as possible, watch and learn what he’s doing before practice, during practice and after practice. That will give him some time to learn, adjust to the MLS game and hopefully contribute to the first team in the near future.” It should be exciting to see how he adjusts to MLS and RSL.
- Max Lachoweki – RSL’s 2nd round draft pick this year is a defender from Notre Dame, primarily a left back I would expect he will be a player who spends a big portion of the season with the Monarchs but RSL GM Craig Waibel is excited by this pick. “He’s a good player and he loves the ball at his feet. He’s got a good attacking brain and he’s technical,” Waibel said. “I think the biggest thing for us, we’re going to transition him into defending at the professional level. That’s a transition for everyone, but the quicker we can work with him on some of the things that we think he’s a little bit weaker at, they’re only going to complement the strengths he already has, so we’re really excited about Max.”
- Chris Schuler* – No longer under contract with RSL, I expect that as his recovery from foot surgery last year continues that if he can return to playing soccer that RSL will likely look to sign him to a new deal, one I can only expect will be fairly low with lots of incentives for starts and minutes played.
This is the area of RSL that I have the most concerns about, beyond Tony Beltran there is simply nothing but questions for me. Can Jamison Olave improve to the level he showed in 2013/14 with New York where he was a dominant force? Can Aaron Maund develop into a real MLS level #2 CB? Will Justen Glad be forced into action with the first team? Will it be too much too soon? Who is going to play left back for us? RSL’s defense was one of the worst in the teams history last year, and simply has to be better if RSL is going to be able to compete in CCL and make it back to the MLS playoffs. I remain hopeful as I believe we will still see a couple of additions to the roster, and if we could get Schuler back for even part of the season in the form he is capable of things could shift quickly back to our defense being a strength.
That’s How I See It