Season Preview - Real Salt Lake

Ten wins, ten losses and ten draws. Real Salt Lake were the very definition of average in 2008. And yet they made the playoffs, and were a post-widths distance away from taking New York to extra time in the Western Conference Final, a game that they dominated. So expectations are higher than they might be for any other average club.

And the Utah club is even easier to figure out going forward, because they hardly made any changes to their roster from 2008. But one of the late additions they made last season proved to have a crucial impact. Canadian winger Will Johnson served as a sparkplug, and had the goal of the year (well, officially, though I'd rate Marcelo Gallardo's audacious volley higher) on a ridiculously sublime flick, turn and blast. Outside of Johnson, this off-season they drafted a raw defensive mid project and claimed Ned Grabavoy off waivers. Pardon me for not being too excited. They are looking at adding Luis Miguel Escalada, a Argentine striker with potential but who is a bit of an unknown quantity at this point.

It is another Argentine that carries their team, and one who is one of the more unheralded stars in all of MLS. Javier Morales, totaler of 6 goals and 15 assists last year, is a fantastic presence in the attacking midfield role. On the other hand, if he gets hurt, RSL will struggle badly. He's joined in attack by Yura Movsisyan, whose name I incredibly spelled correctly from memory. Movsisyan really came on strong at the end of last season, and I'm not sure if he'll keep it up. Also at forward is Robbie Findley, who would be a great player if he didn't have the first touch of a drunken rhinocerous.

The back line, however, is where RSL really looks to stand out. Their defense is possibly the best in the west. A central defense of Nat Borchers and the excellent Jamison Olave, who came to Salt Lake from Fredy Montero's Deportivo Cali, is solid. With Olave signed for 4 more years, they have a good core to build around. Chris Wingert and Ian Joy on the wings are both very quality, plus there's good depth in defense as well. And I can't forget the heart and soul of Salt Lake, holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman. Though he does sport the ridiculous white-guy dreadlocks, he makes up for it with his consistently passionate play on the pitch. It's hard not to like Beckerman.

There aren't really any apparent weaknesses on the Real Salt Lake roster. Striker would probably be the thinnest position, but if Luis Miguel Escalada pans out then that isn't much of a question either. They definitely look to be better than average this year, and they should be drawing increased crowds to shiny new Rio Tinto Stadium, which is for my money the second-best venue in MLS. And a repeat to the playoffs looks likely. Yes, if you're a Real Salt Lake fan, there's a lot of reasons to be excited about 2009. Aside from the fact that you live in Salt Lake.

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