SANDY — Real Salt Lake's relatively brief offseason officially comes to an end today.
Players who don't already reside in Utah will report today for preseason physicals in preparation for fitness testing on Thursday and then the first training session of the year on Friday. This week marks the beginning of a potential 10-month grind for RSL players.
Following 61/2 weeks of preseason that will be split between Utah and Arizona, Real Salt Lake opens the season on March 10 at the L.A. Galaxy in a rematch of last year's Western Conference final.
The 2012 season will once again be a busy one for an RSL team that will participate in multiple competitions.
In addition to 34 regular-season games, coach Jason Kreis' team will also play six group games in the 2012-2013 edition of the CONCACAF Champions League from August to October. Odds are good RSL will also play two-plus games in the U.S. Open Cup and two-plus games in the MLS Playoffs, pushing the match count to upwards of 50 when you factor in preseason games.
Eight players are gone from last year's team, most notably Andy Williams (retirement), Robbie Russell (trade) and Collen Warner (expansion draft). That opens the door for the six rookies Real Salt Lake drafted to not only compete for roster spots, but playing time as well.
The bulk of Real Salt Lake's preseason will be spent in Arizona.
After four Utah-based training sessions this week, the team will depart for Arizona for the first of its two preseason camps in the warmer climate. The first stint will be split between Scottsdale and Casa Grande from Jan. 31 to Feb. 13, with two preseason games scheduled.
The team will then return to Utah on Feb. 14 to regroup before heading back to Arizona from Feb. 20 to March 4. During the second preseason camp, RSL will participate in the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup tournament. It will face the New York Red Bulls on Feb. 22, the L.A. Galaxy on Feb. 25 and the New England Revolution on Feb. 29, with the championship/consolation games scheduled for March 3.
RSL will then return to Utah to prepare for the regular-season opener on March 10.
The 2012 preseason will certainly have a different feel than a year ago. In 2011, the club was focused on gearing up for the Champions League quarterfinals, and therefore didn't waste much time trying to work in new players. With so many open roster spots this year, a good chunk of the preseason will be spent giving the rookies a chance to prove themselves.