By Jason Poon (@jasonhpoon)
After not making the post-season for the first time since 2007 in 2015, RSL made small improvements to sneak into the playoffs in the 6th and final playoff position. The return of striker Yura Movsisyan to Utah brought high hopes that RSL could relieve some of the offensive burden that was placed upon Joao Plata after Alvaro Saborio's departure after the 2015 season. Movsisyan's nine goals were respectable, but certainly not enough to recapture his 2009 form (his last stint in RSL) where he managed 0.42 goals per 90. His 2016 returns were a paltry 0.37 G/90.
Plata still carried the bulk of the offense, nearly pulling a double-double in goals and assists (9 goals, 12 assists) and took the bulk of RSL's shots. However, his returns were even worse than Movsisyan's as Plata only managed 0.32 G/09 when compared to his breakout season in 2014 of 0.59 G/90.
Real Salt Lake started the season in strong fashion, going on a six game streak without a loss, and looking like early season contenders for some silverware. But like many MLS clubs who experience a hot streak early on, RSL fell victim of a midseason swoon that undid all their early season gains. RSL would suffer a six game streak without a win and hover in the middle of the pack. RSL would then completely imploded by ending the 2016 regular season on a 7 game winless streak and sputter into the playoffs, before limping out in the opening round.
RSL's defense also took a dip in form from their 2015 campaign, most notably in their shot prevention department. Just looking at Nick Rimando's stats from the last two seasons, we can see Rimando's save percentage drop from 71% in 2015 to a fairly pedestrian, by Rimando standards, 66.4% last year. To compound that, Rimando also saw an increase in shots against per game going from 3.875, to 4.566 in 2016.
If you had to categorize RSL's 2016 campaign in one word, "meh" seems to fit the bill.
Off Season Changes
Unless you were hiding under a rock, one of the bigger MLS stars from the last decade, exited RSL and landed in the arms of a North Texas team. After 10 years of service (pun intended), Javier Morales has moved south to join the South American brigade of FC Dallas. Morales, of course, is no longer at the peak of his powers, but losing a long stalwart like him will have a significant impact.
The exit of Morales also signaled the beginning of the end of the old guard for RSL, as Jamison Olave, Olmes Garcia and Devon Sandoval were not brought back. But as they went out with the old, RSL were keen on bringing in the new too; bringing up Homegrown Jose Hernandez into the fold and welcoming the second act of Luis Silva and David Horst.
The most exciting piece for this year has to be Brooks Lennon, who will return on loan for the year after trying his hand across the pond with the old retirement league (Premier League). Lennon returns to RSL and will have high hopes to lead them back into the playoffs and hopefully silverware contention.
We, of course, do have to touch ever so briefly about their flirting with signing Landon Donovan. That piece of news came and went so quick like a Trump Presidency scandal.
One thing that is for certain, is Rimando's starting position between the sticks for RSL. (Barring injury.) Rimando remains, infuriatingly for opposing fans, the greatest MLS keeper of all time, yet somehow the least decorated in terms of hardware and accolades. (Can we just give him a lifetime achievement award already?)
The defense in front of Rimando is where things still look pretty thin and old. The front office did bring in Horst to bolster the defense, and holdovers Tony Beltran, Chris Schuler, Aaron Maund and Chris Wingert will still do an adequate job, but outside of that, there isn't much besides putting all your eggs in the basket in Homegrown Justen Glad that he'll come good and come good quickly.
The midfield will still be led and anchored by the lovely locks of Kyle Beckerman and there will be hope that a return of form will land at Silva's boots this year. All eyes however, will focus on the new DP signing Albert Rusnak and how he'll transition to RSL and the league overall.
The forward department is stacked with plenty of youth and experience. Movsisyan and Plata will be expected to carry the offensive load with newcomer Chad Barrett making the occasional cameo. Brooks Lennon and Omar Holness will have their chances to break into the lineup and wreck havoc.
Depending on how and where you start looking at this RSL team, you'll either be excited for the upcoming season or dreading it. If you start from the bottom (defense) and move on up (offense), then you'll start with old, aging, not much improvement to young, vibrant and hopeful outlook. It's basically Jekyll and Hyde, depending on where you're looking. If RSL hopes to improve in 2017 and challenge for a playoff spot, they better hope that their offense can carry the aging defense and just outscore the opponents more times than not. From a neutral perspective, this could mean really sloppy soccer from RSL this year or deathly entertaining offensive fun. There's really no in-between and I'm tickled to see how they'll transition into the new era.