Curious about how the defending champions have been doing this season and how they will close out the year? I contacted SB Nation's resident Real Salt Lake blogger RSL Soapbox to seek those very answers. And after I defeated Denz in thumb wrestling, he responded with some information.
1) Real Salt Lake are defending MLS Cup Champions, and would have been expected to repeat as champions, except for all of the changes going on around them. Seattle, Chicago, and New York have all added multiple designated players in the last month, but RSL haven't done a thing. Is the team being too complacent?
RSL has been letting other teams make headlines during the transfer window, but you have to consider bringing in Alavaro Saborio (7 goals and 4 assists) to fill in the spot left open by the departing Yura Movisyian a big move. I think RSL will end the season with a DP, but it won't likely be someone coming in to join the team but either a move to keep Robbie Findley from going to Europe, or a permanent move to get Saborio from his loan. It is my hope that the team can pull off both. The reality is that Salt Lake is the smallest market in MLS, and we don't have the deep pockets of LA, Seattle, or New York, but even with them RSL won the Cup last year by playing with the motto of "the team is the star" and they continue to build the team in that manner.
2) With so many teams adding so much talent, are you worried that your team's place in the top tier will evaporate?
I don't, I think the fact that we had 4 players named to the All Star team (only LA had more) and honestly could have had one or two more there speak to the level of talent that Real Salt Lake has, we tend to fly under the radar since we don't get the TV coverage of LA or Seattle, but our offense has scored as many goals as anyone in MLS, and only two teams have allowed fewer goals. We have a 19 match unbeaten streak at Rio Tinto Stadium and already have more road points than we did all of last year. Our advantage is the level of play that comes from having a very solid core of players who know what to expect from each other and how to get the best out of each other. I would love to see RSL land a big name player, but the whole organization will demand that they understand how this team is run, so I am not holding my breath for Raul or Riquelme anytime soon.
3) Coach Jason Kreis has a tough decision to make every week between forwards Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio, and Robbie Findley. Has this been difficult to manage? And which two do you think will start against D.C. United?
You are spot on as to the difficulty Jason has when trying to fill in his starting XI, 3 guys who are all great options. I know that Jason loves the ability to bring Robbie on late at home, where his speed can be lethal to tired opponents, last year half of Findley's goals came when he came off the bench. Fabian Espindola is one of the most passionate players you will see, sometimes a bit too much, but his ability to run at defense is great. Saborio is the only one who has really secured a spot in the starting lineup, but you never know when Jason will want to give him a rest. Getting all of them playing time is brutal, but we start a stretch of 14 matches in 54 days so having depth will be one of the keys to catching LA and Columbus for the Supporter Shield, and getting out of our group in the CCL. I would expect that Jason will go with Alvaro and Robbie against D.C. on Saturday Night.
Of course Denz had some questions for me in return. If you're interested in hearing my witty answers, read on.
1) Well we are just past the midway mark of the MLS season and when RSL and D.C. last faced off, the Men in Black were actually showing some signs of life (win over Chivas, draw RSL, win over Seattle), but since then you are 0-3-2. What happened?
But you're forgetting that we beat Harrisburg and Portsmouth! D.C. United was certainly starting to look like a real team for a little while there. Road ties against the Earthquakes and Red Bulls were also promising, but the two straight home losses to the Sounders and the Galaxy really hurt. United was at least competitive in the Galaxy loss. The teams were tied late in the match until a Sean Franklin shot unfortunately struck the hand of a sliding Julius James. But falling to our cross-country rivals later that week really drilled a nail into the coffin. Our defense has improved significantly from our early season struggles, but the problem continues to be a lack of scoring. Hopefully the 2-0 Open Cup win over the Harrisburg City Islanders and 4-0 win over Portsmouth FC were signs of improvement.
2) Andy Najar is still getting a lot of press and some pressure to chose between perhaps playing for the USMNT or Honduras. How has the young man (17-years old) been responding to the attention and the team's struggles?
From what I can tell, it hasn't phased him. The kid is humble, which I think we can both see as a stark contrast to United's last teenage phenom Freddy Adu. Andy Najar is our leading scorer, as sad as that sounds, but his goals have all generally come from crosses. He doesn't try to force it. The attention has yet to go to his head.
3) Some teams have gone for big names in the transfer window, some teams have done nothing, but D.C. United went down the middle and brought in a DP in Branko Boskovic and added Pablo Hernandez on a loan. How will these players impact United in their remaining MLS matches, and in particular will they impact this weekend's match in Salt Lake City where DCU haven't gotten a result since 2005?
I think the United starting lineup that you'll see Saturday night is something close to the best lineup they've put on the field all season. D.C. fans have been complaining the entire year that the team didn't have a creative attacking central midfielder or a proven striker, and now both of those have arrived. I know that I'm not supposed to put too much stock in international friendlies, but Boskovic, Hernandez, and Danny Allsopp combined incredibly well against Portsmouth last week. Look for that to continue. Although I would definitely feel better about things if this match were anywhere but Rio Tinto.