There’s so many details that go into a contract. Landon does have an interest in playing soccer, and everything lies in the details. —Real Salt Lake GM Criag Waibel
There were multiple reasons why Real Salt Lake faltered in front of goal late last season, and thus multiple things the club needed to address this offseason.
General manager Craig Waibel didn’t believe a major overhaul was needed, though, and that’s reflected in the collection of players that will gather in Arizona on Monday for the start of the 2017 preseason.
Nine of 11 starters return from last season, including 16 total players who were a part of last year’s playoff team. Those two departures, however, are significant. RSL elected not to re-sign Javier Morales, and then Juan Manuel Martinez elected to move back to his native Argentina.
Their absence could significantly change the way RSL plays in 2017 and beyond.
“We made some big changes this offseason in terms of the roster. We made some big changes in terms of how we’ve set up to advance the roster, and we’re in a position now to focus on some more players that continue our development and continue to make us better as a team,” said Waibel.
In addition to signing Slovakian international Albert Rusnak this offseason, Waibel expects additional signings to follow.
RSL has tentatively reached contract agreements with MLS veteran forward Chad Barrett and defender David Horst according to Waibel, even though the deals haven’t been finalized.
Waibel said he’s also optimistic RSL will reach a deal to bring Luis Silva back from Mexican club Tigres.
And then there are the Landon Donovan rumors, which have swirled for three weeks now. Waibel said on Friday that the two sides were still in discussions.
“There’s so many details that go into a contract,” said Waibel. “Landon does have an interest in playing soccer, and everything lies in the details.”
Signing Donovan would definitely cut into some of the playing time for RSL’s younger attacking players like Jordan Allen and Sebastian Saucedo, but the leadership and experience Donovan could potentially teach RSL’s young players is something the coaching staff is excited about.
Real Salt Lake has salary cap space and a roster spot to sign Donovan and Silva — or other players if those deals don’t materialize — and coach Jeff Cassar said he’d prefer those deals get done soon so they don’t miss too much of the preseason.
The preseason is starting a bit later for RSL this season because it isn’t participating in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals like it was a year ago.
“It’s definitely different. I think it maybe gives us an opportunity to focus just on us during the preseason and what we need to do rather than just focus in on one opponent. I’m going to look at that as a positive,” said Cassar.
Rusnak won’t be with RSL for the start of the preseason next week, but Waibel said he’s hopeful that all the visa paperwork will clear soon so the 22-year-old midfielder can join the squad during its Arizona portion of the preseason.
“Obviously we want to get Albert in as quickly as possible so he can start to adapt to the way we play and the league,” said Cassar.
Rusnak is 14 years younger than Morales, and RSL should be able to play differently as a result.
“This year you’re going to see a team that’s very high pressing, a lot of energy, especially on the defensive end higher up the field. And if we’re not having to go back from 80 yards to break a team down — cause that got difficult last year — it’s going to suit everyone’s style and I know it will suit Albert’s style as well,” said Cassar.
And the sooner Rusnak and the rest of the players get comfortable with the 4-2-3-1 formation, Cassar hopes to fine tune other formations to protect against predictability.
“We want to be able to add a different type of arsenal to our formation. Will it happen day one? No. We want to master something and then build on that,” said Cassar.