You see what I did there? Anyhow we are entering into a season filled with expectations as is every fan of every team, but for RSL we are coming off 3 seasons of disappointment and yes making the playoffs and washing out in the first round is a disappointment. So for me the expectations are high as always, I expect at least 15 wins and 50 points during the regular season and at least one win & home playoff match for MLS action, and a quarterfinal appearance in the US Open Cup. Those are minimums for a season to be considered successful in my mind, and last year we failed, the year before we failed and even in 2014 we failed.
This will be the fourth year with Jeff Cassar in charge, and unless we can at least meet those goals I will be honest it probably should be his last. I would give him the full season to reach those goals but one has to wonder if getting Mike Petke into the RSL fold wasn’t a move to have a MLS ready head coach replacement in the wings? There have been excuses in past years, new coach, new formation, etc but this is payoff time, there are no more excuses it is time to deliver or move on.
So the RSL season is about to begin so let’s take a quick look at what has transpired between the end of the 2016 season and now, and how much hype those things bring to the 2017 season.
I am going to use a scale of -10 to +10 to rate the major events of the off season and what I believe their impact will be on the 2017 season
- Javier Morales leaves – I doubt we will ever know what really happened at the end of the 2016 season, but clearly the departure of Javier Morales will impact RSL going forward both on and off the field. I took about a week after the 3-1 playoff loss at LA for this one to hit and its about as negative as hype can get, gotta go with a -10 on this one.
- Jeff Cassar staying – RSL fans were up in arms over Javi’s departure and a end of the 2016 season that saw RSL win just 4 of their final 19 matches and no wins in Sept or Oct. So the news in early Nov of Jeff’s contract being extended for 2017 wasn’t exactly received with positive hype, this one gets a -5
- Burrito is gone – Another case that we may never really know what happened but between a nagging injury, issues at home, and who knows what else Juan Manuel Martinez was dealing with but clearly he had checked out by mid season and by the end of the season it was clear things had gone very wrong. His release was a not a surprise but it sure wasn’t what any of us wanted, but clearly what he wanted. His creative abilities on the field will be missed, I give this one a -7 on the Hype Meter. Read more
So this is one of those blog posts that I write, scrap, write again, scrap again and eventually find myself drawn back to no matter how many times I try to walk away from it. As seasons end and seasons get ready to start again I find myself always considering what has changed, what needs to change and while there is no doubt that the last couple of seasons have been far from rewarding for most fans as far as results on the pitch, the question is why. We have the formation change, we have roster changes galore, but what if the issue is something more? What if the issue is rooted in something other than the salary cap, other than roster rules, other than formations? What if the issue is a lack of identity?
Now before you roll your eyes, too late I expect for some, hear me out a bit. Since day one in the league, RSL has played with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, a small market team, not a glamourous destination, a lack of attention from the league or national soccer media, sponsors more fitting of arena football than a professional soccer team, and so on. You can turn something like that into a motivating factor or you can turn it into an excuse, and it seems like lately we have used it as either an excuse or a crutch. Now some of you are going to really roll your eyes at this next part, so take a few seconds and do it now, cause you know you will.
So when Craig Waibel said there were a few players RSL was looking at this winter transfer window, you knew there would be some speculation, how could their not be? But in the last 24 hours things have been kinda funny, kinda exciting, but not very rewarding as everything seems to still be in that rumor stage. Given the drama of several handshake deals falling thru last year, I will get excited when paperwork is signed and official announcements made.
Still, let’s talk about things a little bit. First up, Landon oh Landon, how would the RSL family react if the rumor of Landon to RSL were more than just a rumor (I really, really doubt it even should qualify as a rumor). So it all started with a report that Landon was in Salt Lake City, so that must mean he is signing with RSL right? Oh could he be one of thousands who come here each winter week to get some time on the slopes? Could he just be visiting friends? Could he be here for some completely unrelated reason? Yup and to be honest as much as I respect Landon, this isn’t a player that builds RSL for the future. I said it on Twitter, if this were a move for a team that just needed one piece to go from close to Champions, then great and wonderful he is a guy who can make a difference for any team.
That isn’t the case in my book, I was reminded that most of our starters and roster are coming back from the 2016 season and I remain unconvinced is some cases if that is a good thing or not. I believe it is time for RSL to start rebuilding, not a complete but clearly we need a faster, more dynamic team on both sides of the ball. The heart and passion showed early in the season was replaced by a team that looked confused and disinterested at the end of the season. The stat that still haunts me is how often we failed to win when we scored first, and countered by how often we were able early in the year to fight back after giving up the first goal and get a result. So I would say thanks but no thanks to a Landon to RSL deal at this point, because I want us to start building for the next 3-4 years and beyond, not just do enough to make the playoffs and get a few contracts extended another year.
Now the very exciting rumor that may hold some actual weight is Albert Rusnak, a 22 yr old attacking midfielder from Slovakia, who currently plays in the Netherlands for FC Groningen. You can check out one of the many highlight clips here. Craig dropped hints at the town hall a couple weeks ago about a young attacking mid playing in the Netherlands and today rumors started flying around about Albert. You can check out his current player profile page here
A 0-0 draw at home against an opponent that you should beat is simply disappointing and that is exactly what RSL fans were treated to. When RSL dominates an opponent and fails to get a result, at least the match can be entertaining, at least fans can draw hope that eventually the goals will come, but when the team simply looks disjointed it leaves one with lots of questions. So 14 shots for RSL, to 12 for New England, 2 shots on target for RSL and 1 for New England, a 52% to 48% edge in possession for RSL but much of that seemed to be in our own end of the pitch.
Prior to the match there was another issue facing RSL, a member of the Salt Lake Tribune’s sports staff was denied access to the Rio Tinto press box and their RSL credentials were revoked. There are statements from both sides that support their stance on the issue and for me the reality of the situation is probably somewhere between the two statements. I have never been a huge fan of Gordon Monson, largely because he writes about the Utah Jazz and I care nothing about the NBA. He has over the past two years written two articles about RSL that I have found interesting, both question how decisions are being made after Dell Loy Hansen took full ownership of RSL. Both take issue with what Monson called the dismantling of those who helped build RSL from a disappointing expansion side to a dominant force within MLS.
Was his take a bit simplistic? Yes in some ways, but were there also some legitimate questions being asked? Yes, one would have to be blind to the rapid pace of change at the top of RSL once DLH took over. First losing Jason Kreis as head coach, due to a lowball offer and then losing GM Garth Lagewey who was looking to take on more responsibility (which seemed to make sense at the time) but then letting Bill Manning go as well, and wondering why not hold onto Garth given that move had to be in mind. These are all questions that many fans have asked me online and offline over the last 3 years.
Draws at home aren’t good enough, never have been and never will be in MLS this year the home teams are 98-32-59, in the West 4 teams haven’t lost at home, 2 more have lost just once. RSL’s has had draws in 3 of their last 4 home matches after winning their first 5 home matches, so while we can take pride in not having lost at home, we need to get back on that winning side of things and on Saturday facing the New England Revolution who are 1-5-3 on the road and who have never won at Rio Tinto, there should be no better time to get a home win.
It may not be fresh on the minds of RSL players or fans, but last year at New England we did one of those mixed lineups and got thrashed 4-0. Of course RSL has had a few of those big wins over New England as well, a 6-0 and 5-0 wins in their matches at Rio Tinto back in 2009 & 10. This is actually a series that RSL holds a distinct advantage in with 9 wins, 5 losses and 4 draws and only twice in those 18 matches have we had a 0-0 draw and none since 2007. In fact 11 times RSL has scored 2 or more goals against the Revs, and have 34 overall goals against them. Being shut out last year was the first time since 2007 that RSL hadn’t scored against New England. Toss in the fact that the Revs will be without Charlie Davies, Juan Agudelo and others and it’s starting to sound like this one should be a cakewalk right?
The Revs could be getting back Gershon Koffie, who has been out for over a month, they also recently added Kei Kamara who has 3 goals since joining New England from Columbus. Add in Lee Nguyen and Digeo Fagundez, and the results can change, the Revs won just 2 of their first 13 matches but have won 3 of their last 6 so this is clearly a team that is putting things together. So can RSL follow the example of LA and FC Dallas, both who beat the Revs 4-2? I expect a full strength lineup from RSL (some questions about Joao Plata and Demar Phillips who have minor injuries they are nursing). Still with LA winning last night, and both Sporting KC & Vancouver able to leap in front of RSL in the standing with wins this weekend, 3 points is critical for the Claret and Coblat.
So at the midpoint of the season before last weekends 1-1 draw with Montreal and then Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at Vancouver I started writing a blog post wondering if the glass was half full or half empty when it comes to RSL. I have my own opinions on this that I will share but I think we have to step back a bit first and ask what are we judging this based on?
Do we compare this year’s RSL vs RSL of years past? If so what year, 2009 when we had a mediocre year but were able to make a successful run at MLS Cup, remember we were 11-12-7 and our run in large part was boosted by being moved to the Eastern Conference for the playoffs? Or do we compare to 2013, a huge year where RSL was just 3 points shy of the Supporter Shield, made it to the final of the US Open Cup and lost in heartbreaking PK’s in MLS Cup? Perhaps the most accurate would be to compare it to last year, the first time since 2007 that we missed the playoffs, where often when faced with adversity it seemed the team simply gave up at times? Is it fair after our 19th match to judge the team at all?
A lot of valid questions, for me I will try to compare the team to both our combined past, as well as the rest of the league at this point of the season.
So every summer a good number of clubs from Europe make the trek to the US either to play in the highly suspect ICC tournament, sorry but it is preseason matches for most clubs from Europe and nothing more so calling it a tournament is “meh”. Real Salt Lake has avoided the temptations each summer to bring one of those clubs in for a friendly match, as they often have been focused on US Open Cup or the MLS season but this year that has changed as the team recently announced they would be hosting Inter Milan on July 19th (you can read details here), and it has me wondering why.
The team has only scheduled one friendly in the last 6 years, that against Xolos in 2014, you have to go back to 2009 to see RSL more active in playing host to these often attractive for fans but generally unimportant matches, so why now? Part of it could be our new ownership, with Dell Loy firmly in control and now Andy Carroll handing most operations with the departure last year of Bill Manning, it could just be that they have taken a fresh look at the opportunities that exist.
One can’t blame them, with many teams already scheduled to come stateside for the ICC matches the cost of signing a match like this is likely greatly reduced. Salt Lake also provides teams a chance to practice at altitude something many clubs value during their pre-seasons and with this match a week before Inter’s first ICC match it goes along with Andy stating that part of the goal of the new soccer complex being built in Herriman will be attracting touring European clubs.
“As the Herriman Complex evolves, we expect the Salt Lake Valley to serve as the home base for numerous world powers during their Summer tours of North America; Inter Milan’s visit to Sandy this July is the first step in that process.”
The upside for RSL is simple, first it gives them a chance to show off the plans for the new complex, but it also allows them to sell tickets to fans both of RSL and Inter Milan for a midweek match and get both revenue as well as some good press coverage out of the match.
I don’t often post press releases, but this one is an exception as it is the
REAL SALT LAKE & RIO TINTO STADIUM
first second (thanks Trey for the correction) “friendly” match since 2009 vs Chivas (the real Chivas) a match that I believe was a cornerstone moment for RSL:
TO HOST LEGENDARY ITALIAN CLUB INTER MILAN
ON TUESDAY, JULY 19 AT 8:00 P.M. MTPresented by the Utah Sports Commission, RSL v. Inter Milan
Highlights Summer Schedule in Sandy, Along with June 24 Liga MX Exhibition;
First-Ever European Side to Face RSL at Rio Tinto Stadium
SANDY, Utah (Wednesday, June 8, 2016) – Rio Tinto Stadium will host iconic and legendary Italian club Inter Milan on Tuesday, July 19, presented by the Utah Sports Commission, as Real Salt Lake faces a European side in the world-class Utah venue for the first time. Kickoff is at 8:00 p.m. MT, with RSL Season Ticket Members able to secure their seats until Friday, June 17, with the entire Stadium going on sale at that time to the general public via the stadium box office, RSL.com, RioTintoStadium.com or by calling 844.Real.Tix.
“The arrival of such a storied club as Inter Milan coming here to face Real Salt Lake is a testament to the vision our owner, Dell Loy Hansen, is developing for the sport in our community”, said Andy Carroll, Chief Business Officer for RSL. “As the Herriman Complex evolves, we expect the Salt Lake Valley to serve as the home base for numerous world powers during their Summer tours of North America; Inter Milan’s visit to Sandy this July is the first step in that process.”
Officially known as FC Internazionale Milano, and colloquially outside Italy as simply “Inter Milan” the Milan-based club is recognized worldwide for its iconic black and blue jersey, hence the nickname the Nerazzurri. Inter Milan has competed in Italy’s top flight league, Serie A, for over a century and has never been relegated in its 108 years of history.
Did we all think after coming in mid year that this year we would see more from Juan Manual “Burrito” Martinez, sure. Did we all hope that Joao Plata would return to his 2013 form after injuries last year, sure. Did we all think bringing back Yura Movsisyan would help the RSL offense, sure. Did we all think that younger guys like Jordan Allen and Justen Glad had a ton of potential to make RSL better, sure. Did any of us think Sunny would step in and make this much of a difference right away, nope. Did all of us think we had serious issues at CB heading into this season, yup. Do most of us still think we have those issues at CB, probably
The first 8 matches of RSL season have come as a surprise to just about everyone, but I doubt many people are disappointed given the team has the best PPM 2.13 in the league and our 5-1-2 record is mighty good given some of the early season injuries, suspensions and mistakes. I think a lot of us noticed something different about the team early on, the amount of fight when faced with things going wrong seemed much better than last year.
While all of us are impressed with where RSL is after the first 8 matches, things could have been better a couple of bad red cards in two of the first 3 matches, along with a couple of mental and physical breakdowns late in matches left RSL exposed late and the team ended up with a couple of draws in matches that could have and probably should have been wins. Imagine what people would be saying about a 7-1-0 start by RSL. Still you have to deal with the hands you are given sometimes and I believe the team learned a lot about itself in those tough situations, something that will pay off over the long MLS season.
On Saturday night in their 2-1 win over Houston we saw RSL do something rare in MLS, get a win after giving up the first goal. For RSL it is actually the second time this season they have done it, they also did it again Seattle in our 2-1 win over them. The only team that has shown the ability to come from behind better than RSL has been the LA Galaxy who have won 3 and gotten 2 draws after giving up the first goal.