The offseason is officially over for Real Salt Lake, which kicks of the 2011 campaign this Tuesday with a huge match against Columbus in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. Winning the Champions League is the No. 1 priority for the club this season, and there's no time for another slow start like in years past. It's been a busy offseason for Real Salt Lake general manager, and he recently caught up with James Edward to talk about the Champions League and the club's offseason activity.
Question: Playing soccer in February doesn’t really sound like fun if you’re in Columbus, Ohio. Are you concerned about how the weather conditions could effect your team.
Answer: I think it’s going to be pretty miserable in Columbus, but no one said winning a championship is going to be easy. We’ve had plenty of occasions, both in Columbus and other places where we’ve gutted out wins and we’ve fought when we needed to fight. Particularly the first leg is going to be a game where it might not be the prettiest soccer, but we’ve got to get a result, and there are no excuses.
Question:Could this offseason have gone any better from a management standpoint after locking up multiple key players to multi-year contracts?
Answer: I’d love to jump up and down and pat myself on the back, but the reality is we have to see how these things work out. We made what we think our intelligent decisions based on guys that have performed, but as everyone knows those guys need to continue to perform and perform consistently in order for those decisions to be born out as good ones. If everyone gets complacent, then that will have had the unintended consequence of taking our edge off and could be potentially negative. Now it’s up to the players to prove us right because they’ve got to earn those contracts.
Question: How important was it to lock up Alvaro Saborio this offseason, and join the ranks of MLS teams with a designated player?
Answer:It’s always important to stress that the designated player thing has to do with the transfer fee and not with the player’s salary. It’s important that we stay consistent with our team-is-the-star philosophy, and Sabo’s not the highest paid player on a our team. It’s basically a salary cap mechanism where our owners agreed to pay a transfer fee out of their own pockets. ... It’s one that honestly I didn’t think was possible a year ago, and it’s a credit to our fans that we’ve been able to raise our revenues as a business. Being able to sign Sabo specifically is a great thing, it’s a great message to our fans that we’re able to tie up what I think is the best striker we’ve ever had.
Question:The league has created mechanisms for MLS teams to sign home-grown players to contracts. Where are you in that process, and is it important for you to add those pieces to your team?
Answer:We are looking seriously at adding one or two home-grown players. I don’t think a decision is imminent, and I don’t think those are players that are going to help us this year or even next year, so I think it’s a longer timeline. But we’re really, really happy with the progress of the academy (in Arizona). I think we’ve made massive progress in less than a year down there in terms of moving to the full-time residency set-up. ... Any kid from Utah who wants to move down there and join the academy is able to do so. In fact, we’ve taken two of our better Utah kids and placed them down there already. It is both available and desirable that Utah kids go down there and get in the best possible environment.
Question: What are your thoughts about the addition of expansion clubs Vancouver and Portland to MLS, and specifically the Western Conference this year?
Answer: Really positive, really healthy for the league. I think Canada specifically is a massive market for the league. When Montreal comes in next year you’ll have three teams up there. I think soccer has a chance to be a real big presence in Canada. Specifically in that northwest corridor with Vancouver, Portland and Seattle, it’s going to be absolutely awesome. I think it’s going to be tough for us because I think Vancouver and Seattle are certainly going to act like big market teams. ... With both Portland and Vancouver coming into the Western Conference, and we’ve already got six teams that made the playoffs last year, the West is much, much better than the East again this year and it’s going to be really tough for us again. Hopefully we’re up for it.
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