What is old is new again at Real Salt Lake

I find a sense of humor in how an element within the RSL fan base seem to complain when we lose players and now that several have returned they complain about that.  Now the easy examples of what is old being new again at RSL are Yura Movsisyan and Chris Wingert and while the time away and circumstances are much different, there were groups of people who were happy and some sad when they left, and as they return again some folks are happy while others are sad.

I am going to start with a look at Chris Wingert who had been a stalwart of the RSL lineup from 2008 to 2014, years during which RSL often had one of the top defenses in MLS.  Chris is more of a stay at home back than the adventurous backs featured on some teams, he got forward often enough but his primary focus was always defense first, defense second, and then maybe going forward to help out on the offensive side of things.  Chris was left unprotected in the 2015 expansion draft and while I expect he didn’t want to leave a chance to go home (he is a New York native) and play in front of family and friends and for a coaching staff that was head up by Jason Kreis, had to be attractive to him.  At NYCFC last year he started in 26 matches and played both outside and center back in a season that only could be considered a struggle for the expansion side.  With a massive change in their coaching staff, who didn’t see that coming, several players brought in specifically by Jason were either traded or let go and Chris was one of those.

Now given that RSL’s defensive efforts in 2015 were the worst since 2007, it is little surprise to me that with lots of questions on defense that RSL brought Chris Wingert back to the team.  Remember this is a team that had released Demar Phillips who greatly under-performed in 2015, but brought him back hopefully with him having greater focus on RSL’s needs.  Still given the struggles on defense why wouldn’t you bring in a guy who had added stability to your back line for the best years of the teams history?  Now does that mean that any of us expect Chris Wingert to be the long term solution for RSL’s defensive struggles?  Nope, but he has consistently kept himself in match shape and provided a solid anchor on the back line.  At 33 he is in the final years of his playing career, but I expect as a known quantity he provided the coaching staff with some peace of mind while they try to figure out the future.

For some fans however they see it as a step back, and question if it will really help RSL out in 2016.  They question what role will he play, starter in his traditional left back position, in the middle as a center back (a role he has played with mixed results) or as depth behind Phillips and Mansally.  I am not sure what role he will play, but I will say two things about the return of Chris. First, you will not find a nicer, more friendly, or more invested in the community and building the locker room into a family than Chris, and at a time where the gap between fans and team seems to be growing Chris provides an instant link between the two.  Second, stability isn’t a bad thing and while the 4-3-3 expects more offense out of the outside backs, the reality is that last year that didn’t work out on either side of the ball.  So do I expect that if called upon that Chris will be able to help RSL get back to being a team that has solid defense, you are damn right I do think he can help our defense. He isn’t a perfect player, but in this case a known quantity could be a very good thing.

The departure and return of Yura Movsisyan is a very different story, it was in the middle of the 2009 season that Yura signed a deal with Randers, but that deal didn’t start until after the RSL season was over.  This lead many observers to believe that Yura simply turned off for RSL as he prepared to head off to Europe to chase dreams of playing for his national team and playing at bigger clubs for bigger paychecks. RSL didn’t want him to leave and in fact offered him the largest contract they had ever offered a player, but it wasn’t enough for the young man with much to prove.  Yura found success after leaving RSL, which resulted in him both finding a major role with the Armenian National Team as well as with Russian powerhouse club Spartak Moscow.

Having found that success Yura started to long to return to the states and MLS both for himself and for his family, which has always played a major role in his decision making.  It wasn’t just a return to US and MLS, it was a very specific return to RSL that Yura wanted and demanded his agent find a way to make happen. So when we all heard the rumors about Yura coming back to RSL last year, they weren’t rumors they simply were leaks of a very long negotiating process that ended after over a year of work with Yura’s return.

The response to Yura’s return has been fairly positive but even this has seen some critics, as is fairly typical not just for RSL or MLS but all sports. For me I can’t think of a stronger sign of commitment from RSL leadership and owner than the willingness to negotiate a deal for a player that could have gone almost anywhere but to find a way to make a deal work where he would come here, where he wants to be.  Don’t get me wrong Yura likely left money on the table in this deal, but somethings can be more important and for Yura that clearly is family.  That being said I expect when salary numbers are released we will find that Yura is likely the highest paid player in RSL history.

As I think about Yura’s impact with our new formation, things get even more exciting. A target player who has become a clinical finisher, someone who can be there to provide someone for Joao or Burrito a place to pass the ball to, or who could clear space for them to get better scoring chances.  Is he an answer to all of RSL’s issues from a 2015 season that was far from expectations, nope, but I believe he is a step in the right direction.

With big pressure on the coaching staff to deliver better results, taking steps that might seem backwards to some by bringing in known quantity type players could be a move to buy time while they figure things out or while younger players continue to develop?  This is likely the case with the Wingert move, much less so with Yura.  Whatever is at play, I think both moves will bring some stability and depth to a team that seemed to be lacking both last season.

So we are set to start our season in just over week away as our CCL match at Tigres is set for Feb 24th, and the home leg is Mar 2nd.  Our first home match is less than a month away as we will host Seattle on Mar 12th, I am going to head down to Tucson this week to catch the final 2 RSL preseason matches and will keep you updated on what I see and hear from warm AZ.

That’s How I See It

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *