"These are three key players to our success over the last four, five years, and it's hard to see them go," Real Salt Lake president Bill Manning said. "But we came to a point where we said if we want to get better, we have to make some big moves to get under the salary cap and free up some money to get some firepower."
RSL officials pointed to four factors in forcing what general manager Garth Lagerwey called a "day of reckoning": rising salary costs, as RSL's core, the longest tenured in the league, remained intact; the team's failure to advance in the CONCACAF tournament earlier this year, losing out on a bonus from the MLS; a five-game scoring drought to end the season; and the emergence of young players, such as midfielder Luis Gil and center back Chris Schuler.
The CONCACAF elimination, in particular, foreshadowed Monday's transactions. Without that salary bonus, RSL no longer was able to sustain the entirety of its core, team officials said. Lagerwey told ESPN 700 that RSL entered the offseason needing to cut 25 percent of its payroll. By Monday's end, RSL's front office had "affected a seven-figure swing," Lagerwey said.
Team officials believe the midfield play of Gil, David Viana and Sebastian Velasquez will help absorb the loss created by trading Johnson. As for Olave, the veteran defender will turn 32 next spring and injuries severely limited his minutes last season.
"We're trying to get a little bit younger ... but it's all about the right mix of experience and youth," Lagerwey said.
Manning said he believed last year's team still would have been competitive for a championship in the coming season. But five scoreless games, which cost CONCACAF and MLS playoff victories, left the team wanting more from its forwards.
"What we saw is in the big games we weren't scoring in big games at the big moments," Manning said.
Teams were able to put two defenders on leading scorer and the team's lone forward after Paulo Jr.'s option was not picked up Monday Álvaro Saborío, and RSL "didn't have anybody else that stepped up and took the game by its throat," Manning said.
"We need somebody else to alleviate that pressure, and Fabián was very streaky," Manning said. "You're hoping he's on top of it, but when we went all those games without goals, it made our decision for us to move in another direction."
Manning said the team hoped to add one or two "high-level" forwards. Where Espíndola and Paulo Jr. tended to drift out wide, RSL officials want scorers who will fill the box. That would allow defenders Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran, who both agreed to extensions with RSL this week, the chance to pace the game from the outsides.
In return for shipping Espíndola and Olave to the New York Red Bulls and Johnson to the Portland Timbers, RLS saved $1 million in salary and generated $500,000 in allocation money, according to the website soccerbyives.net, which first reported the trades Sunday.
The Salt Lake City native Braun played in just two games last season for RSL after being acquired from Montreal. In exchange for the forward, Toronto FC shipped Aaron Maund, the 12th overall pick in the 2012 SuperDraft, to Salt Lake.
Outside backs returning
RSL announced contract extensions with defenders Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran, both of whom played career-high minutes for Salt Lake last season.
Backup 'keeper signed
Jeff Attinella, who signed with RSL on Monday, will presumably replace Kyle Reynish as Nick Rimando's backup. RSL picked Attinella in the first round of the 2011 Major League Soccer Supplemental Draft before eventually releasing him.
Morales coming back?
General Manager Garth Lagerwey told ESPN 700 that RSL remains in negotiations with star midfielder Javier Morales. The team would like to re-sign him, but Mexican clubs could offer a more lucrative deal. Lagerwey said he expects the matter resolved within the next two weeks.