Real Salt Lake faces high expectations in 2016

So after what was probably the most disappointing season in RSL history, I didn’t expect us to be good in those early years as we built a team, but coming off a 2013 MLS Cup final appearance, and a 3rd place finish in 2014, to finish just above the Rapids at the bottom of the Western Conference in 2015 and to miss the playoff was far from expectations.  So lots of things went wrong in 2015, a lot of injuries, a new formation, and simply an ever improving league, it is hard to know what happened and looking back at this point is rather pointless as we head rapidly into 2016.

I think it is important for fans to remember it wasn’t until the 3rd season under Jason Kreis that RSL made their run to MLS Cup, a season in which the team barely made the playoffs on the closing weekend of the season.  So as we hit the 3rd year of the Jeff Cassar tenure, the expectations for a much better season and a return to the playoffs is expected.  In the offseason the team made several moves to improve, the biggest of which is bringing back Yura Movsisyan, but that isn’t the only move the team has made.  RSL picked up well traveled Nigerian midfielder Sunday “Sunny” Obayan, who is expected to fight for that 3rd midfield spot alongside Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman.  Add in a healthy Joao Plata and a full preseason for Juan “Burrito” Martinez and the front 3 look to be set and very dangerous.

On defense RSL brought back Chris Wingert who can play both that left back as well as provide depth at centerback, the team has also made several attempts to pick up another proven CB but had several deal fall thru.  The team does have Jerry Akaminko, a 27 yr old CB from Ghana who spent the last several seasons playing in Turkey and has 5 appearances for his national team, in camp.  He has played minutes in the last couple of preseason matches, and it appears RSL is working out the details of a deal to add him to our roster.  Still a huge question for RSL is what might happen with Chris Schuler who is out of contact and recovering from foot surgery last season.

There are also our 3 draft picks, Omar Holness (MF – North Carolina), Max Lachowecki (D –  Notre Dame) and Amass Amankona (MF – Dayton) and while I team rarely counts on draft picks to make an immediate impact, each will be given a chance in the preseason to prove they deserve a spot on the first team, but expect them to probably spend more time with the Monarchs than with the first team.  You can add in HGP Danilo Acosta (D/M) who was signed in the offseason from the academy and Emery Welshman (F) was signed to the first team from the Monarchs as well. So some young blood brought into the organization to compliment the roster.

So are these moves that will pay dividends this year for RSL? Time will tell but as the league continues to progress, RSL is trying to remain one of the top team by using a mix of players developed in house via the academy and the Monarchs and then bringing in talented players who can push us over the top.

My expectations are easy, for the last 6 years my expectations have been the same, it is to achieve what I consider to be the standard for MLS regular season success.  The 15 wins and 50 points mark is something few teams can achieve year after year, but it has been enough to get you into the playoff and that is the other goal of the regular season.

This year RSL will be starting their season early as they will be facing Tigres in knockout round of the CONCACAF Champions League, in fact the first leg in Mexico is just a week away and the home leg is set for Wednesday, March 2nd (you should get tickets for this one).  RSL will be marked underdogs in this matchup as Tigres was the best team in Mexcio last year and have gotten off to a solid start this season.  Moving past this first round matchup would go a long way towards building the kind of momentum the team will need in 2016 as the West keeps getting better and better (let’s be honest the whole of the league is getting better).

I will take a look at RSL’s schedule in MLS action in an upcoming blog post, while I enjoy a winter break down in Tucson catching some RSL preseason action.

That’s How I See It

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