The 2017 Major League Soccer season was a three act play for Real Salt Lake. Act one started with head coach Jeff Cassar beginning the season on a new contract that was extended to him in the 2016 offseason before he was abruptly dismissed three matches into the season. The following interim period was act two as the franchise hired Real Monarchs manager Mike Petke to lead RSL. The club floundered for a few months as he sought to install his system and philosophy and win over his players. Act three was the superb stretch run of the season under Petke’s leadership, beginning with a breakout performance against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Independence Day, which ultimately saw the club come up just short of making the MLS Playoffs in October.
Having come just short of a playoff berth, RSL entered this offseason with optimism abounding about the immediate and long term future of the club under Petke’s steady hand on the pitch and Craig Waibel’s work in the front office. Among the things to be accomplished during the offseason were re-signing a number of contributors as well as a need to bolster depth in the overall roster. There was particular need to strengthen the backline, upgrade the midfield and bolster depth at center forward. By most accounts, as the 2018 preseason approaches next week, the Claret-and-Cobalt have checked each of those boxes off of their to-do list.
Two of the biggest names associated with the club in it’s history entered free agency this offseason in team captain Kyle Beckerman and star goalkeeper Nick Rimando. The hope and expectation was that both franchise pillars would re-sign with the club. Beckerman officially re-signed earlier this week on a multi-year deal and there are reports that Rimando will follow suit. The moves are a sign that the veteran core of the club believe in what is being assembled as both players had options to go elsewhere.
Along the backline, RSL took a significant hit when it was announced that stalwart right back Tony Beltran would miss a significant portion of the 2018 season recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery due to an injury suffered against Colorado late in the 2017 season. To combat the loss of Beltran, the franchise signed former Real Salt Lake Academy star Aaron Herrera and former Blackburn fullback Adam Henley. Herrera played in last year’s U-20 World Cup while Henley has experience playing in both the English Premier League and English Championship so they should be able to steady the position while Beltran recovers.
RSL also bolstered their centerback depth behind presumed starting centerback tandem Justen Glad and Marcelo Silva with their signing of Shawn Perry, who has seven years of professional experience across Europe, and Salt Lake City native Taylor Peay, who starred for the Monarchs in 2017. The club also retained MLS veteran David Horst and re-signed Demar Philips earlier in the offseason to compete with Danilo Acosta at left back.
Luis Silva’s breakout performance in the latter half of the 2017 season at center forward was one of the season’s best storylines. He unseated Yura Movsisyan at the position and while Movsisyan remains under contract with the club, he doesn’t figure into their long term plans. To that note, the club signed Spanish forward Alfredo Ortuno. Ortuno, who has La Liga and La Liga 2 experience with 41 career goals, is a more traditional forward who should push for first team minutes immediately. The club also added another academy product in Stanford forward Corey Baird, who completed his collegiate career with three consecutive national championships, to compete along the frontline.
The final key move this offseason was RSL being able to retain winger Brooks Lennon on a permanent transfer from EPL giant Liverpool. He solidifies the team’s already deep wing positions with Joao Plata, Jefferson Savarino and Jordan Allen returning. Add in the rumors surrounding Tigres star midfielder and Mexican international Jesus Duenas, who may end up being a summer acquistion, and Real Salt Lake suddenly boasts the makings of a very formidable, and deep, side that should be a good bet to make the MLS Playoffs this year, which would send a signal to the rest of the league that the RSL is once again a contender.