Los Angeles and New York get a lot of the glitz and glamour, but is there a better team, a team more well-rounded than Real Salt Lake?
The team was unsuccessful in defending its MLS Cup championship, but as a team, they looked as dangerous as ever.
Finishing second in the Western Conference, Salt Lake had the Newcomer of the Year award winner, surrendered the fewest goals in the league (20) and had the best goal differential (plus-25).
The best thing to like about the 2011 version of this club? It returns practically everyone from the core of last year’s team; actually, an impact player was added to its roster.
An elite team with continuity from year-to-year is very dangerous.
Alvaro Saborio made a huge impact on the team in his debut season in MLS, scoring 12 goals and winning the Newcomer of the Year award. He was rewarded for his efforts with a new Designated Player contract. He’ll need to be just as strong this year, with Robbie Findley leaving and trying his hand in Europe.
Findley wasn’t a major contributor last year, struggling with form and injuries and missing time because of his inclusion on the World Cup squad. But when he was around teams still had to think about him.
Now, however, it’s all up to Saborio.
He’ll have plenty of support in the midfield, though. Javier Morales is the stand-out of this unit. He’s a playmaker in the center of the midfielder who can both get his own shot off and create for others. He’s also aided by Andy Williams, a playmaker himself with good pace and newcomer Arturo Alvarez.
How will Real Salt Lake do in 2011?
Alvarez is an offensive-minded player who many think will thrive with this club. He’s a bit temperamental at times, but he has been a prominent player on all his teams while in MLS and will only improve RSL.
Backing them up is midfielder and team captain Kyle Beckerman. He is a tenacious player who always goes in hard in his challenges on the ball and he is a good leader.
The stingy defense is led by goalkeeper Nick Rimando. His quick reflexes helped him post the second best goals against average in the league (0.67) and the most shutouts (14). He also finished third in save percentage (78 percent).
In front of him is as solid a group as any, headed by Jamison Olave—the centerback is the best player on the backline. He is joined by Nat Borchers, Robbie Russell and Chris Wingert.
Like any team, avoiding injury will be the biggest issue this team has. It will be a little more difficult to do with so many games.
There are MLS matches and US Open Cup matches. The team also qualified for Superliga and is currently in the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Depth and overwork will test this team.
A second strike partner will need to be found to support Saborio. Cody Arnoux came to the team in a special draft and he impressed Everton enough to earn a one-year contract with Everton in 2009.
Fabian Espindola had a goal and an assist in the team’s recent 2-0 victory over Saprissa in the Champions League, so options are there.
This is a very dangerous team with talent, key players signed to long-term contracts and youth to develop.
They won the 2009 MLS Cup as a heavy underdog, but now this club will aim to become a dynasty and win another trophy, this time as a legitimate threat.