Real Salt Lake will be hoping Year 2 of Mike Petke continues where Year 1 left off.
Petke came in after four games, following Jeff Cassar’s winless start. His tenure took a little while to get going, but Real Salt Lake was excellent down the stretch, going 8-4-3 in its final 15 games to nearly secure a playoff spot.
Veterans Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando return, while talented playmaker Albert Rusnak will look to improve on a debut MLS campaign that saw him score seven goals and add 14 assists.
Whether Real Salt Lake gets back to the postseason this year may come down to how Petke shapes the youth on the roster: The team may well start five or six players who are 23 or younger.
How did Real Salt Lake perform in 2017?
2017 finish: Eighth in the Western Conference (13-15-6), missed the playoffs
RSL improved under Petke but ultimately fell short of the postseason, missing out on the last day of the season despite a win.
Salt Lake was close to the middle of the pack offensively, scoring 49 goals, but was below average defensively, conceding 55 times.
Real Salt Lake's key offseason losses
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Real Salt Lake mostly just said goodbye to rotation players this winter. Defenders Chris Schuler and Chris Wingert had their options declined, with Wingert announcing his retirement.
Forward Chad Barrett and former first-round pick Omar Holness were also let go. Designated player Yura Movsisyan fell out of favor last year. Though he technically remains on the roster, his exit appears likely.
Real Salt Lake's key offseason additions
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Wales youth international — and U.S. eligible — fullback Adam Henley joined on a free transfer after his time with Blackburn came to an end. Once considered a promising prospect, Henley is just 23 and could reclaim his form in MLS this season.
The team signed Pablo Ruiz, a 19-year-old midfielder who played for San Luis of Chile’s Primera Division. RSL also made the Brooks Lennon’s loan move from Liverpool permanent.
Full Real Salt Lake roster entering 2018 season
Goalkeepers: Nick Rimando, Connor Sparrow
Defenders: Shawn Barry, Tony Beltran, Justen Glad, Adam Henley, Aaron Herrera, David Horst, Taylor Peay, Demar Phillips, Marcelo Silva
Midfielders: Danilo Acosta, Jordan Allen, Kyle Beckerman, Nick Besler, Jose Hernandez, Damir Kreilach, Luke Mulholland, Sunday Stephen, Pablo Ruiz, Albert Rusnák, Sebastian Saucedo, Luis Silva
Forwards: Corey Baird, Brooks Lennon, Ricky Lopez-Espin, Yura Movsisyan, Alfredo Ortuno, Joao Plata, Jefferson Savarino
Real Salt Lake projected starting lineup
The MLS leader in wins Rimando returned to the fold and will take his usual place between the sticks. Glad will anchor the back line, with Marco Silva pairing with him. Henley should take up the right back spot while Acosta and Phillips will battle at left back.
Like Rimando, free agent Beckerman re-signed and will take up his position as the holding midfielder. Mulholland remains a likely option to step in beside him, with teenager Ruiz and veteran Stephen a possibility.
Rusnak was one of the best newcomers in MLS last season, finishing with 14 assists. Savarino also fared well in his debut season. Plata will probably take the other attacking midfield slot, though Lennon will likely see substantial time at one of the wing slots.
The striker role is a question mark, with Luis Silva doing well in the second half last season. Movsisyan remains on the roster for now, though it appears unlikely that will be the case for much longer.
Real Salt Lake national TV coverage
Real Salt Lake vs. Los Angeles FC - Saturday, March 10, at 3:30 p.m. ET on Univision
Sporting KC vs. Real Salt Lake - Sunday, Sept. 30, at 5 p.m. ET on FS1