One of the most unpredictable attacking teams in Major League Soccer in 2018, Real Salt Lake added another weapon to an already potent attack in the offseason in the form of designated player Sam Johnson.
Mike Petke's side proved they could score goals over the course of the 2018 season, netting 55 times, but struggled to slow down opponents to the tune of 58 goals conceded. The trend continued into the MLS playoffs, where RSL pulled off a stunning 3-2 knockout-round win on the road against LAFC before falling 5-3 to Sporting Kansas City over two legs in the conference semifinals.
It makes for some fun soccer to watch, but for RSL to take the next step the team will have to find a way to solidify at the back.
With the new season just around the corner, Goal takes a look at what Real Salt Lake has in store for 2019.
How did Real Salt Lake perform in 2018?
2018 finish: Sixth place in the Western Conference (14-7-13), lost to Sporting Kansas City in the conference semifinals
After a slow start RSL turned things around late in the summer, suffering just three losses in July, August and September to help them earn the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The club then pulled off one of the biggest shocks of the 2018 MLS playoffs with a thrilling 3-2 win over LAFC in the first round before falling to rivals Sporting Kansas City.
Real Salt Lake’s key offseason losses
Midfielder Sunny , who played 23 times for the club last season, was among the players who had their options declined by the club. Forward Luis Silva , scorer of five goals in 2018, can also be counted among that group. Fullback Demar Phillips, who had played for the club for four years, also was not brought back.
Defender Danilo Acosta has been sent on loan to Orlando City, with the Florida club holding an option to purchase by the end of the season, but the RSL has been able to retain the majority of its players heading into the new season.
Real Salt Lake’s key offseason additions
Liberian forward Sam Johnson will be the name most talked about heading into the new year. The 25-year-old, brought in on a DP contract, should slot in well with a versatile set of attacking players already on the squad.
The club also brought in Brazilian Everton Luiz on loan from Serie A's SPAL. Known primarily as a defensive midfielder, the 30-year-old should offer plenty of value in the middle of the park with Sunny gone.
RSL academy product and former player Donny Toia was brought back to the club in the re-entry draft, offering depth on the back line and the club also added promising homegrown forward Julian Vazquez.
Full Real Salt Lake roster entering 2019 season
Goalkeepers: Alex Horwath, David Ochoa, Andrew Putna, Nick Rimando
Defenders: Tony Beltran, Justen Glad, Adam Henley, Aaron Herrera, Erik Holt, Nedum Onuoha, Marcelo Silva, Donny Toia, Brooks Lennon
Midfielders: Jordan Allen, Kyle Beckerman, Nick Besler, Damir Kreilach, Everton Luiz, Luke Mulholland, Pablo Ruiz, Albert Rusnak, Sebastian Saucedo, Tate Schmitt
Forwards: Luis Arriaga, Corey Baird, Sam Johnson, Joao Plata, Jefferson Savarino, Julian Vazquez
Real Salt Lake’s projected starting lineup
Picking a starting XI for Real Salt Lake heading into the season is not an easy task.
Petke's willingness to tinker coupled with a massive amount of attacking depth leaves plenty up in the air. Baird, Savarino, Plata, Kreilach and Rusnak could all be considered starters at various positions, and how Johnson fits in the mix is an unknown.
There are questions at the back as well, where Glad lost his starting job at the end of last season. Onuoha could win one of the starting center back jobs and the options in terms of formation and tactics in the attacking third are many.
Real Salt Lake’s national TV coverage
- Real Salt Lake vs. Atlanta United - Friday, March 24, at 9 p.m. ET on Unimas