RSL 2013 season preview: Breaking down the midfielders

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 27 2013 11:00 p.m. MST

SANDY— In essence, a solid midfield must possess the ability to be combative while also being creative.

That is the bread and butter of the Real Salt Lake midfielders, who seem equipped to battle the best in MLS during the upcoming season.

RSL captain Kyle Beckerman will command the midfield— and the nine other midfielders on the roster— as the team looks to improve on the missed opportunities of a year ago.

"This could be an extremely tough season, but one we're looking forward to," said Beckerman.

There will be a hole to fill in the RSL midfield for at least the first few games — that hole being Javier Morales, who still has some recovering to do after successful surgery on his ankle.

In order to fill the vacancy, Beckerman has called on his teammates to step up and take the reins.

"We need somebody to step up, because we rely on a lot of things from Javier. When you don't have him, somebody is going to have to step up and do that."

Ned Grabavoy, who missed both matches at San Jose last season, mentioned that while it's exciting to kick off the season it is more important to keep looking forward in a campaign that runs through November.

"It's important that we kind of stay on an even keel — not too high, not too low. Nobody has ever won this league in March and April," said Grabavoy.

Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez have made tremendous strides in their time with RSL, and both could be relied on heavily in the upcoming season. Gil was part of the U.S. U-20 squad that earned a berth into the FIFA U-20 World Cup, while Velasquez brings speed and technical skills to the midfield that could earn him a starting role with Morales out.

"I'm excited because that's where I grew up playing," said Velasquez of potentially playing in Morales' attacking mid position. "It's the one position I feel most comfortable at, so if coach (Jason Kreis) gives me a chance to play there I will do my best."

One of the most surprising acquisitions of the offseason was that of Jamaican international and former San Jose midfielder Khari Stephenson.

Stephenson is a proven threat in the attacking half — whether it's with the long-range ball or the free kick. He was upbeat when asked how it feels to be a member of the Claret and Cobalt.

"It feels good. They've always been a good team, won a championship, and are always trying to win championships every year, so it is definitely a good team to be a part of," said Stephenson. "I think it's been a seamless transition. I have a better of understanding of the system now. I mesh well with the guys, and it will only get better."

Overall, RSL fans should be optimistic with what the club brings to the table in the middle of the park — on paper, at least. Despite Morales' injury and the offseason departure of standout Will Johnson, who was traded to Portland for allocation money, don't expect too many surprises from a team that has been consistently at or near the top of MLS for the past handful of seasons.

"It's going to be similar to years past," said Beckerman. "We are going to be a team that fights hard. We know that if fans come out to support us, we will give everything we've got and fight to the end. That's what we can give them—100 percent every day."

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