SANDY — Real Salt Lake held its media day on Tuesday at a former RV dealership, next door to Rio Tinto Stadium. Ardell Brown used to sell wide-bodies off the lot, but the soccer team took it over when the stadium rose.
Since then, Real has been using the dealership for anything that comes along, including press gatherings.
This wasn’t a fancy event, but RSL isn’t a fancy team. There were no pricey hors d’oeuvres or buffet lines, and certainly no backlit display alcoves or polished floors. That stuff belongs at the stadium club across the road. This had more of a working warehouse feel: rolled up mats, scattered folding chairs and a lone set of used red living room furniture.
Overall, the place looked as it must have in the 1970s when wood paneling was in style.
Still, if it’s not broken, why fix it, right?
That seems to be the theme around here.
If it feels like yesterday since RSL was playing in the cold of Kansas City for the MLS Cup, it nearly was. After Lovel Palmer’s shot hit the crossbar, and Sporting KC raced off with the championship, Real went into off-season mode. Kind of. The club waited just 48 days before reporting last week for duty.
How short was it?
“Short,” said goalkeeper Nick Rimando. “Very short.”
“It flew by,” said coach Jeff Cassar.
Kyle Beckerman barely had time to wash his hair.
Short is a good thing for RSL. It lost the MLS Cup on a record 10 penalty kicks. That could be depressing. When Jason Kreis left for New York, Real hired Cassar, formerly the team’s goalkeeper coach.
Real’s 2014 roster is nearly identical to the one that went so far last season. The names are as familiar as an old paneled showroom: Ned Grabavoy, Nat Borchers, Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Robbie Findley, Javier Morales, etc.
In addition, young players such as Luis Gil, Joao Plata, Olmes Garcia and Sebastian Velasquez are advancing nicely.
“We made the Open Cup final, we made the MLS Cup final, so we figured that’s pretty good,” said general manager Garth Lagerwey.
While some teams have gone all-out to bolster their lineups with high-profile acquisitions, RSL has stuck with its core and groomed younger players as it went. Since 2008, just two of Real's 14 most-used players were new each year to the list. But last season there were four.
The point: RSL is growing prospects, even as it ages.
“We have a core of guys, probably our top six players are over 30,” said Lagerwey, “so we know we have limited time. That said, we started 27 players last year, the most in the league. We feel we’re the deepest team in the league, and all our young players should be one year better than last year, because they know the system.”
This is the system: get some moderately priced guys who want to stay, stick with the team philosophy and become fixtures in the community. Fans love athletes they can identify, and Beckerman and Rimando have been in Salt Lake seven years apiece. With his unmistakable dreads, Beckerman is as recognizable as most Jazz players.
“We do not want to be a franchise that goes through these massive overhauls every year,” said president Bill Manning.
“It’s not like we have to install a whole new philosophy,” Cassar said. “That’s already in place.”
To its credit, RSL isn’t backing down from expectations. From Cassar, to management, to players, all say they should be contenders.
That all depends on whether the young players keep growing quickly and the older players age slowly.
“Expectations are high,” Manning said. “But we’re modest. I don’t think we’re boastful, but we have high expectations. Can we win the MLS Cup? Absolutely. Will we? We don’t know until it comes November or December. But I think that with the team and talent we have, we’re in that conversation.”
No sense in remodeling if you’re still in style.
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