>By Evan Ream, with help from the Intern

Last Year: 15-4-11 56 points, 2nd in West, 2nd Overall. Lost to FC Dallas 3-2 on aggregate in the Western Conference Semifinals
Key Losses: Robbie Findley
Key Additions: Arturo Alvarez
Projected Starting XI: Real Salt Lake play a 4-4-2 with a slight diamond midfield, but it isn’t a true diamond. Most people say it is, but Kyle Beckerman is much more offensive than most people think and Javier Morales does a lot more defensive work than everyone thinks. Together, Morales and Beckerman are the best central midfield pairing in the league by far. Their outside midfielders, usually Will Johnson or Andy Williams tuck inside, though their outside backs don’t overlap much, which allows the midfield to take a lot more attacking chances. Alvaro Saborio scored 18 goals in all competitions for RSL last year and could score even more this year. Fabian Espindola is a limited player in terms of his awareness and decision-making, but being the worst starter on this team isn’t bad. JJamison-Olaveamison Olave really cut down on his mistakes last year and became the best defender on the best defensive team in the league. Though their best team is the one you see below, they don’t use it very often. Jason Kreis plans ahead to give each starter ample rest throughout the season, sometimes planning the lineups five games in advance. Their depth will be tested with all the competitions they’re in this year, but they have key role players that can come off the bench and be nearly as good as the starters. Up front, the young Paulo Jr. looks to be a future star in the league and should start a few games. Arturo Alvarez can also slide into a forward role or either outside midfield position where Ned Grabavoy can also play. Tony Beltran is capable of playing either outside back spot and Rauswhan McKenzie can slide in for either Borchers or Olave at center back. The biggest drop off though is the central midfield replacement for Beckerman or Morales, either Jean Alexandre or Collen Warner, but they are usually fine as long as they have at least one of Beckerman or Morales.

Fabian Espindola          Alvaro Saborio
Will Johnson          Kyle Beckerman          Javier Morales          Andy Williams
Chris Wingert         Nat Borchers          Jamison Olave          Robbie Russell
Nick Rimando

Prognosis: Last year RSL were the best team in the league, but they came up three points short for the Supporter’s Shield and had a few tough breaks in the playoffs. I fully expect them to be better this season than they were last year, but it may not show in the standings. They are still alive in the CONCACAF Champions League where they beat Columbus, keeping them alive in four competitions (five if they play SuperLiga). Javier Morales thinks they can win the treble; I don’t doubt him for a second. I have a good feeling that this team will come away at the very least with one trophy. Alvaro Saborio should challenge for the golden boot and Arturo Alvarez should have a very big season, and may turn out to be even better than Robbie Findley, not that that is saying much. As the best passing team in MLS, RSL are a great team for soccer lovers to watch, and you likely will be watching them in late November.

The Intern’s Take: It will be interesting to see how RSL holds up through all of their competitions this year and if they pull a Columbus type burnout towards the end of the season. This seems like a remote possibility however due to the fact that they have arguably one of the most talented depth pools in the league. RSL is one of, if not, the most well balanced team in MLS. Whereas some teams have spent monstrous sums of money bringing in big name players, RSL has no standout superstar, and I get the sense that is how they want it. Their focus on the overall team is evident in the fact that unlike most MLS teams, RSL has no glaringly obvious weakness and therefore should be right back in the playoffs again this year. Anything short of that must be considered a failure. Anchoring the back is Nick Rimando in goal, who started for the USA against Chile in January. The RSL defense only let in 20 goals over 30 games last year, helping the team finish with a league best +25 goal differential, an impressive seven goals ahead of second place LA. Leading the back line again this year will be the reigning MLS Defender of the Year, Jamison Olave. The central midfield duo of Beckerman and Morales is solid and effective, and with Alvaro Saborio up top, the forwards generally have no problems finding the back of the net. Arturo Alvarez, Ned Grabavoy, and Tony Beltran should be able to provide quality off the bench and are all adequate starters if needed. This RSL team is solid and well built and they should be able to compete against any team they face this year, whether in MLS, Open Cup, or CONCACAF Champion’s League.


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