Last year many people scorned Real Salt Lake. The club finished the regular season with a losing record of 11-12-7, yet still made the playoffs and went on to win the MLS Cup.
Many outsiders felt that this was an aberration and an embarrassment to professional sports. They chastised the MLS playoff format for allowing too many teams in.
Head coach Jason Kreis believed in his team the whole way and got the job done, regardless of how they finished the regular season. In 2010 Salt Lake returns the majority off their championship-winning core and will be out to prove that they are a talented team, not a fluke.
Real Salt Lake is a balanced team, efficient on both offense and defense.
The defense is led by goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Rimando enjoyed what was arguably his best season in his 10-year MLS career. He posted a 1.14 goals against average, his lowest total since 2005. Rimando shined in the playoffs being the star in the team’s two penalty shootout wins, including in the MLS Cup championship that earned him MVP honors.
His entire starting defense—Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave, and Robbie Russell—returns and the group's chemistry should be a huge advantage.
U.S. international Kyle Beckerman will stabilize the midfield. He is an aggressive and tenacious defender and will continue to be a great leader for the team.
Javier Morales will handle the attacking portion of the midfield. After a 2008 season where he scored six goals and registered 15 assists, the Argentine had a down year in terms of production, putting forth totals of only one goal and five assists.
However, he played a part in all three of the team’s goals in the playoffs, scoring one and assisting two. The 2009 All-Star will look to improve upon his statistics and has started off the 2010 campaign with a bang scoring two goals and assisting one in the team’s 3-0 in the first game against San Jose.
Up top, Robbie Findley is one of the top forwards in the league.
He was tied for third last season in goals, 12, and added four assists. He has good speed and does a good job of getting behind the defense and getting in position to take high quality scoring chances. He also is still a candidate to make the US National Team roster that will take part in this summer’s World Cup.
He loses strike partner Yura Movsisyan, who left for Europe, but the team found a very talented replacement in Costa Rican International Alvaro Saborio.
A member of Costa Rica’s 2006 World Cup squad, Saborio has made 55 appearances with the Ticos and scored 22 goals, including one 79 seconds into a 2009 World Cup Qualifying match against the United States.
Salt Lake also brought in two talented rookies.
The team acquired heralded 17-year-old prospect Luis Gil, who has dazzled in youth international tournaments at midfield. The team may be slow to bring him on, but he is an exciting prospect for their future.
Collen Warner is the other rookie, drafted in the first round by the team. He was a top scorer and playmaker for four years at the University of Portland and could play a big role as a substitute for Salt Lake.
What the team needs to improve on is winning away matches. The team was almost unstoppable at home, going 9-1-5 with a goal differential of +23. In matches outside of Rio Tinto Stadium, however, the team was 2-11-2 with a -15-goal differential.
Somehow they were able to survive on the road during the playoffs, but they cannot expect to be taken serious as contenders without performing better on the road.
Real Salt Lake started off their defense of the MLS Cup strongly, drubbing San Jose 3-0 in the season opener, but the target is on their back and challenges await them.
Even after winning it all in 2009, the club is still not a conventional pick to repeat. However, they are a very talented and balanced squad with good leadership and chemistry, and if they can learn how to be more consistent than they will be right in the thick of things come playoff time.