2014 Record: 53 points (15-8-11). 3rd in Western Conference, Lost to LA Galaxy in Western Conference Semifinals
2014 Goals For: 54, Sixth in MLS
2014 Goals Against: 39, Third in MLS
Key Additions: Demar Phillips, Jamison Olave, Pecka
Key Subtractions: Nat Borchers, Ned Grabavoy, Robbie Findley, Chris Wingert, Garth Lagerwey
Key Stat: Real Salt Lake led MLS in 2014 in goals from crosses, with 15. The next nearest team was the Colorado Rapids, with 8.
2015 Forecast: If healthy, they're back in the playoffs.
What They've Got Going for them: RSL are not a fun team to say nice things about because a) they are our rivals, b) the song they play when they score makes me want to throw up, and they scored a lot of goals on us last year at Rio Tinto so I heard that song too damn much, and c) in 2015, once again, they look like a better team than the Rapids. Ouch. Truth hurts, yo.
This is a team that plays stifling, shut-down defense. Only DC United and the LA Galaxy gave up fewer goals, and they didn't have to play the Sounders and Galaxy three times each, so I'd argue RSL had the best defense in MLS last year. And that was without USMNT players Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando while they were gone on World Cup duty. Chris Schuler and Ned Borchers, along with Chris Wingert, operated like a wall. Beckerman has a near-mystical ability to appear out of thin air from the corner of your tv screen to clear a ball that your team has juuuuust squeaked into the final third on it's way to the box. Rimando always manages to miraculously get to balls you were sure were going in. It is all incredibly frustrating.
The offense is fun to watch too. Joao Plata has that mighty-mite central winger razzle dazzle going on. Alvaro Saborio was out three months with an injury, came into a game and 15 seconds later did this.
Sabo, Javier Morales, and Luke Mulholland will provide offense while controlling the ball and pace. Luis Gil is young and talented, and looks poised to take that leap to the next level. This team can beat you a lot of ways.
What's Troubling: RSL is old. They had the 5th oldest player average last year, and that was before NYRB, San Jose and the Galaxy got a bit younger in the offseason through retirements and trades. Even their own sb nation blog admits they are old. Alvaro Saborio (32), Javier Morales (35), Kyle Beckerman (32) Nick Rimando (35) and Jamison Olave (33) form the core of this team, and they are all very old. This team is three injuries away from a 2014 Rapids-esque meltdown. The younger players behind them on the roster, like Devon Sandoval, John Stertzer, and Aaron Maund started a total of 15 games last year. Perhaps these guys are stars in the wings, waiting for somebody to go down so that they might step up and shine. Or maybe they've been getting fringe starts for the past few years for a reason.
Another concern: RSL scored a ton from corners. I have to imagine that teams scouting them will be ready for the barrage of balls into the box this season, or even if not, this trend might have been something of a fluke in 2014 that is bound to experience some regression to the mean. Nonetheless, if I'm playing RSL on Saturday, I spend the week with my fullbacks and wingers working on denying balls over the end line, and watching tape with my starting defense of every corner they played last year. Hell, if my team gave up a corner to RSL in 2015, I'd have ‘em all do pushups right on the field like Willie Mays Hays in ‘Major League'. If this team goes from 15 goals to a more reasonable 8 or even 6, that will turn wins into ties and ties into losses right quick.
Finally, last year's leading scorer, Joao Plata, broke his foot on the first day of training, and will be out till April or even May. And we all saw what happened in 2014 when Portland couldn't get the car out of first gear through the first 9 games- they missed the playoffs. If RSL can't find some scoring to replace the Ecuadorean wonder, that's bad news for them. But good news for me. It means I won't have to hear that damn RSL song again for a few months.