Is the band breaking up?

RSL-team-shot-march-22-2014

It occurs to me, as we look ahead of the 2014 season to 2015, that with 2 new expansion teams, and with them an expansion draft, combined with some players who aren’t getting any younger, that this may be the last season the band is all together.

First, there’s age. I love Javi, but he doesn’t look as sharp as he did even last season. Maybe that’s just that it’s early in the season, but at 34, he’s one of the oldest players on the team and he takes a lot of knocks. Gil has been grooming for that position for years and we have a solid stream of quality midfielders in line behind him. I wouldn’t be surprised if Javi retires after this season.

Nick is also 34 but it’s a bit of a different thing. Goalkeepers do extraordinary things with their bodies, but it’s only about 5% of any game. The rest of the time they’re standing between the sticks, watching the play. I could see Nick sticking around for another year or maybe even two. But that makes him a possibility for the expansion draft.

Expansion draft rules generally say that you can reserve 11 players who are off the books. DPs with a no-trade clause are also untouchable. As are homegrown players and Generation Adidas players (though graduates from the Generation Adidas program, like Gil are not protected). But you have to assume that in the 2014 off-season, in preparing for 2015 that RSL in particular (and probably most teams in general) will be looking to the future, and holding back young, promising players that are either starting now or developing into starters. You have to, because there’s no benefit in hanging on to the old guard and letting the future of your team get snatched up by an expansion team.

If I was Jason Kreis (let alone Adrian Heath, head coach of Orlando City), Real Salt Lake is one of the teams I would be looking hard at for who is not on the protected list.

Currently, Real Salt Lake has 5 homegrown players on their 28-man roster:

Lalo Fernandez (GK, behind Attinella)
Justin Glad (D, currently finishing out the season with the Arizona academy team)
Jordan Allen (D/M/F?, one of the most promising players out of the academy we’ve seen, also one of the only ones currently on the squad — with the possible exception of Lalo — who’s really ever gotten any minutes)
Carlos Salcedo (D, heir apparent to Borchers’ position whenever he retires)
Benji Lopez (F, really only ever sees action lately in reserve matches)

Real Salt Lake have two designated players: Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio.

Now, if this is Javi’s last season, it’s possible Garth Lagerwey and Jeff Cassar will offer a DP contract to someone else. Kyle Beckerman is an obvious choice. That still leaves one more open DP slot and with an expansion draft looming, it would make sense to use that up as well. Maybe Luis Gil becomes that third DP.

Let’s assume that’s the case. Javier is retiring, Beckerman and Gil get a DP contract. Even if Javi doesn’t retire, RSL will do whatever it takes to protect Gil. I can’t say I always see it, but he’s been their golden boy for a while, so I just have to have faith that they know what they’re doing (usually they do). Now there’s 11 more players that need to be listed as protected. Here are some more obvious choices:

Robbie Findley

After going to so much effort to get him back, only to have him miss half of the games since he’s been in Salt Lake, I can’t imagine they’d just throw that away by not protecting Findley. And if he wasn’t protected, I can guarantee you he will get snatched up by Jason Kreis and NYCFC. In a heartbeat. Not to mention the fact that it was an expansion draft that led to Robbie leaving RSL the first time around.

Ned Grabavoy

Geez, after last weekend’s supergoal by Ned, and last season when he scored 5 goals, besting all his previous years, it seems like he’s really coming into his own and I can’t imagine he would be left to the dogs come expansion draft time.

Chris Schuler

RSL’s back line looks better when Schuler is part of it. Period. Wasn’t it magical last season when he finally returned from injury and suddenly all those problems at the back that Real Salt Lake had been struggling with just disappeared? It was like someone flipped a switch and Chris Schuler is that switch. It didn’t hurt, either, that he nailed two very important goals in two very important games after coming back from injury last season.

Joao Plata and Sebastian Velasquez

I put these two together because they both bring more speed and creativity to the attack. When Jeff Cassar subbed these two in on Saturday in the 67th minute, Real Salt Lake looked like a completely different team and it was the play of both of them (Joao’s dummy run to draw the defender and Seba’s charge toward the goal before laying it off to Ned) that led to the goal. I would cry if either of them were picked up.

Devon Sandoval

Of the two players RSL drafted in the 2013 Superdraft (both of whom were kept, by the way, the same can’t be said about the 2014 Superdraft), Devon is the one that gets the minutes. He’s proven to be a valuable asset in RSL’s strike force and it would be hard to imagine letting him go despite the fact that, at draft time, everyone said that John Stertzer was the most MLS-ready player.

Tony Beltran

Tony has 2 caps with the US National squad. If he wasn’t protected, he’d go in an instant. End of discussion.

Cole Grossman

The going theory seems to be that Cole is being groomed to take Yordany Alvarez’ spot as the backup to Beckerman. He’s started playing the D-mid position in preseason and hasn’t looked bad there. It would be hard to imagine RSL would let that go, but then, they waived Yordany’s contract last season so, you never know.

Nick Rimando

When you have arguably the best goalkeeper in the league, you don’t let him go, even if he does only have another 2 years in him. But, I wouldn’t leave out…

Jeff Attinella

When Nicky does retire, RSL needs a quality goalkeeper who’s proven his worth and Attinella is that. After waiving Saunders last year, the only other GK RSL would have left on the roster would be the already-protected Lalo, but I can’t see him stepping in for Nick in 2015 if both Nick and Jeff were available for the draft and picked up.

That’s ten, and then it less obvious for the last choice. Does RSL protect Chris Wingert, preserving the current outside backs, or do they protect Rich Balchan who’s 6 years younger and has looked every bit as capable? Does Salt Lake use a slot to protect Nat Borchers for the remaining 1 or 2 (maybe 3) years he has left before he retires? And is it even a risk if they don’t (would anyone pick up a 33/34-year old central defender over someone younger, no matter how good he is)? Assuming this is the 11 that RSL protects, here’s what the list of available players would look like:

  • Nat Borchers
  • Olmes Garcia
  • Abdoulie Mansally
  • Aaron Maund
  • Luke Mulholland
  • John Stertzer
  • Kwame Watson-Siriboe

There’s obvious problems already. Mulholland and Garcia? It’s highly probable that Mulholland gets reserved given how he’s played so far, his age, and how highly the coaches spoke of him in preseason. Garcia was our secret weapon in 2013 and despite the fact that he’s failed to live up to the hype in 2014, he’s still young, just 21, with a long way to go. He could easily get a slot as well.

Maund,  Watson-Siriboe and Borchers leaves a huge gaping hole in the defense, but I can’t imagine all three would be picked up even if all three were available. In 2010, when 2 new teams were added (the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps), no more than two players from any of the teams that had listed players ever got picked, and it’s doubtful that both NYCFC and Orlando City FC would grab defenders from Real Salt Lake when they could have midfielders or attackers.

Okay, so maybe the band isn’t breaking up, exactly, but it’s very probable that some of the older RSL players will be on the exposed list for the 2014 expansion draft and other players will be retire before the 2015 season. The day when the band does break up looms ever closer and the expansion draft is just one way that ominous day is hastened. It’s been widely spoken of, particularly by Nat, that there may only be a few more years left in some of the core members of this squad and there’s been much ado about the youth of RSL, so I have to assume that’s where they are going to focus their protected players. Thinking about it now, it’s no real surprise that there have been 4 homegrown signings over the last two years, as this only adds to the list of players who will be unavailable to the expansion draft. And after Sebastian Saucedo’s performance in the Generation Adidas Cup tournament (which earned him an MVP and the Golden Boot for the tournament, despite the fact that the RSL U-17s lost the final in PKs), it’s hard to see him not getting a GA contract and signing with the team in 2015, possibly to become the next Javi or Gil.

This is all just a thought experiment, of course, and the expansion draft could go down very differently. However, Real Salt Lake have rarely come out of an expansion draft unscathed. In 2006, it was Jason Kreis, one of the most dangerous forwards of his time and ultimately the head coach of Real Salt lake, who was drafted by Toronto FC. When the ‘Quakes were added in 2007, RSL did not lose anyone, but lost Nathan Sturgis (who now plays for the Rapids) in 2008 to the Sounders. In 2009, when the Union were added, RSL were safe, but then lost Robbie Findley and David Horst (now a regular starter for the Houston Dynamo) to the Timbers in 2010 and Collin Warner to Montreal in 2011 where he’s still a regular starter. And that brings us to today. With how well Jason knows RSL and their system, I find it very hard to believe that he won’t jump at the chance at bringing some players from Salt Lake to New York with him. He likes young, exciting strikers, and RSL has many of them — any one of them could go unprotected and any one could then be given a ticket to the five boroughs. Honestly, though, I’m looking forward to seeing this NYCFC team as well as Orlando City, and the kind of dynamic that those teams bring to the league. It’s hard not to get excited about the 2015 season even while we’re in the beginning of the 2014 season, but I suppose I’ll have to satisfy myself with an unbeaten 2014 record so far and a solid playoff chance.

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