RSL spent a week in Oxnard, Calif., and will also train in Sunrise, Fla., and Rosario, Argentina over the next few weeks. This traveling road show can set the tone for the season. It's a tricky balance between budget and breakthrough, and the road to nirvana (a first playoff bid, no doubt) is a hard course to chart.
What's the best way to build a winning team? Is the priority to build cohesion, stay healthy (the regular season is North America's longest as it is), try out new players or lay a baseline of expectations? And if you're not invited to a meaningful preseason tournament (Los Angeles, Houston and D.C. United will each play 2-4 "real" games before opening day), who do you play?
Going forth to build a winner is more challenging this year, with the Olympics cycle wreaking havoc as well. RSL stands to lose Chris Seitz, Robbie Findley and Nathan Sturgis for the majority of the preseason as the U.S. U-23 team prepares for qualifying matches on the road to Beijing. So much for building cohesion. Those three players have secure roster spots, however, in a camp featuring more competition than any since the inaugural camp in 2005. More than 35 players are auditioning for the remaining 25 roster spots with a roster compliance date of March 3 looming. About one-third of the 18-man senior roster seems to be up for grabs, as are starting jobs at every position except goalkeeper.
Imminent foreign signings likely will impact both the team dynamics and the lineup that takes the field in the March 29 season opener against Chicago at Rice-Eccles Stadium. What is clear in this preseason is that the team will be built on mutual reliance - not on the shoulders of any national team headliner. Without an Eddie Pope, Jason Kreis, Jeff Cunningham, Chris Klein or Clint Mathis on the field, RSL has only one player, Andy Williams, who has earned more than three caps for his national team.
RSL players will be young, hungry, well-traveled and tanned after nine weeks of preseason. Will it be enough?
* Former RSL GM STEVE PASTORINO contributes regularly to The Tribune on soccer. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.