By Randy Davis
Real Salt Lake made history by making the playoffs for the first time last season, but Goal.com's Randy Davis expects even better in 2009.
Recent history: Real Salt Lake began last season extremely strong at
home and extremely poor on the road. In retrospect this was logical for
a team that proved to be talented, but young. The team finished strong,
although only managing to achieve a 10-10-10 record, and needing a last
second goal to make it into the playoffs for the first time in club
Once in the playoffs, the team surprised most by
upsetting Chivas USA, and by playing well at home against the Red Bulls
in the Western Conference Finals but failing to put the ball in the
net. All-in-all, the team enjoyed success and surpassed expectations
after finishing at the bottom of the table in the year prior.
Dearly departed: The team lost four senior roster players from last
season: Dema Kovalenko, Kenny Deuchar, Fabian Espindola, and Nate
Sturgis. Nate Sturgis has promise but was oft-injured and was selected
by Seattle in the expansion draft. Kenny “Dr. Goals” Deuchar arrived on
the scene last season with much fanfare, but never made much of an impact.
Kovalenko may prove to be a significant loss as his veteran leadership
and his biting style of play in the defensive midfield proved to be
important for the team last season.
Fabian Espindola was
the most efficient goal scorer for the team, netting five goals in
eight starts. The player most known for his late-season back-flip chose
to take a more lucrative offer in Venezuela.
faces: Real Salt Lake made perhaps the most surprising selection of
the draft, when they selected Jean Alexandre from Lynn University in
the first round. He is unlikely to have an impact with the team in his
rookie season, but may instead prove to be the defensive midfielder of
the future for this team as the team remains focused on building a
strong “spine” for the team.
The team has also reportedly
signed Dutch left-winger Rachid El-Khalifi who is likely to at least
compete for a starting role on a team bereft of left-sided players.
player that the team currently has on trial is the enigmatic Luis
Miguel Escalada. The young Argentine striker had two excellent seasons
in 2006 and 2007 at Emelec and LDU Quito respectively where he scored
45 goals in 78 games. However, he went silent in 2008 and has
reportedly had fitness issues in the past. If not Escalada, Jason Kreis
will undoubtedly keep the search up for a striker to pair with the
emergent Yura Movsisyan. If the team fails to upgrade this position,
then this will likely remain a weakness throughout 2009.
Season storylines: The team showed a solid defense and a very
talented midfield in 2008. Most of these pieces remain intact and
should improve with another year together.
The main focus
coming into this season will be to upgrade the overall attacking
ability. If Yura Movsisyan continues his late season form for last
year, he will need a quality and consistent striking partner to help
ease the goal scoring burden.
In addition, the team has
made the move to a new stadium, with a much wider pitch and a grass
surface. They will need to add greater width to their game to try to
equal or improve on the home record from a year ago which featured a
Predicted placement: Although an eventual outcome is
difficult to predict this early on, it seems that Real Salt Lake should
improve on last season’s record. They may still struggle with road
consistency, and may have trouble replicating last season’s home
record. Mark them down for second in the Western Conference.
Did you know? Real Salt Lake led the league
in 2008 in both shots and shots on goal, but only outscored three
teams in the league.
Randy Davis is a regular contributor to Goal.com