Did you hear that? That was the collective astonished gasp of the RSL Nation when the news was announced that regular starters Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave had been traded to the New York Red Bulls, and Will Johnson had been traded to the Portland Timbers.
All three of these players were significant contributors, so these shocking changes hit home, and hit hard. RSL’s front office wasn’t done, though. Kyle Reynish, Paulo Jr., Jonny Steele and Emiliano Bonfigili all had their options declined, and Salt Lake City native Justin Braun was traded to Toronto FC in exchange for defender Aaron Maund. Phew.
Time for some good news. Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran both re-signed with the club, and goal keeper Jeff Anttinella signed with them as well. A total of twelve (yes you read that right – twelve) changes in some shape or form had been made in one day.
Every club goes through ups and downs, and with this particular situation, your point of view is so important! Let’s look at the “glass is half empty” attitude. All of these players have done something to help out the team in one way or another, and many of them have been with RSL for multiple years. The team only have one forward on the roster at the moment and they haven’t scored a goal in their last 5 games of the season. Losing Will Johnson in the midfield cuts out a lot of ground covered, and with Olave gone, well, come on… Olave was the man, The Verb! He decided what got past the RSL defense, and that was invaluable to the team.
Lastly, Fabian Espindola and his wild-samurai like hair matched his attitude on the field. He never gave in and was undeniably passionate. Now Real Salt Lake are weaker in every position. Or, are they?
In contrast, it was no secret that Olave wasn’t getting any younger, and Espindola was just a little too inconsistent for his paycheck. Will Johnson still has his best years ahead of him, but in the end RSL knew changes had to be made, and he ended up being a casualty of the salary cap. On the defensive line, the team still has Nat Borchers, who was the better communicator of the center back tandem of Olave-Borchers, and therefore plays better with younger players. Chris Schuler has come up big for the team when they needed him. He is still young, and the team has yet another reliable back up to him in Kwame Watson-Siriboe.
With Chris Wingert, Tony Beltran and Kenny Mansally as the outside backs, RSL have an extremely strong back line marshaled by the one and only Nick Rimando in goal. Ned Grabavoy in the midfield is probably the most underrated player. He works hard, and his technical skills continue to impress me! I’m sure the team will sign another wing mid at some point this season, but they still have Luis Gil, Sebastian Velasquez, David Viana and Enzo Martinez all of whom are still young and who all have exciting futures.
Javier Morales, is most likely re-signing with RSL, just negotiating terms at the moment. He and captain Kyle Beckerman still control the center of the midfield. RSL only have one forward right now, Alvaro Saborio, the goal machine, but I don’t think people should be upset about that. General Manager Garth Lagerway, Head Coach Jason Kreis and scout Andy Williams are hard at work looking for more forwards, and I have complete faith in them—after all, they did bring in Wingert, Borchers, Olave, Morales, Espindola, Beckerman, Sabo, Beltran, etc.—all of the players that have made the group successful for the past 5 or so years.
I for one am looking forward to the 2013 season, and I think all the other fans should as well. While changes may hurt, teams can’t avoid them. Will, Olave and Fabian will be Real Salt Lake Legends forever, and we wish all the departed players the best of luck at their new clubs. The still have has its core together, it just got younger, making for a bright future.
Photo credit to RealSaltLake.com