In the weeks since acquiring superstar midfielder Freddy Adu, Real Salt Lake has heard from just about every other team in Major League Soccer, wondering the same thing as everybody else:
What's up with Mehdi Ballouchy?
After all, RSL acquired Ballouchy with the No. 2 pick of last year's draft specifically to run the team's attack as a playmaking midfielder, yet handed that job to Adu just as soon as the 17-year-old phenom stepped off the plane from D.C. United in a blockbuster trade.
Yet even though Ballouchy spent much of last season straining to adjust to a role on the left side of the midfield - coach John Ellinger has acknowledged that playing wide isn't an ideal situation for Ballouchy or veteran Andy Williams - general manager Steve Pastorino insisted RSL is not ready to part with him.
Every team in the league has asked about Mehdi since we acquired Freddy Adu, wondering if he was the odd man out, Pastorino said. Absolutely not. . . . He's very much part of our plans.
Probably, that means Ballouchy will continue to work on the left side when Adu is running the show, though Ballouchy figures to get plenty of chances to handle that role when Adu is away playing internationally for the U.S. under-20 national team. RSL opens training camp early next month, and begins the season against FC Dallas at Rice-Eccles Stadium on April 7.
What's more, RSL believes it has improved its midfield depth by drafting versatile Stephen Curfman of Wake Forest in the third round of the MLS SuperDraft on Friday.
The 20-year-old can play wide in both the midfield and along the back line, potentially addressing RSL's defensive needs on the outside - RSL allowed a league-worst 49 goals last season, en route to a 10-13-9 record - while also finding a backup and eventual replacement for goalkeeper Scott Garlick in Maryland's Chris Seitz.
RSL picked Seitz with the No. 4 pick of the draft.
He has it all, Ellinger said. He's a great shot-stopper, great in the air, great hands. . . . He's quick. Good footwork. Vertical jump. And he's smart. He tactically knows the position better than anyone we've seen go through.
If Scott wants to be our keeper in 2008, Ellinger added, he's going to have to have a great year. This kid is legit. If you make a mistake and give him a chance to take your job, he's going to take it.
RSL also made draft-day trades with FC Dallas and then New England to land forward Kyle Brown from the Revolution. Brown played in 12 games for the Revs in his rookie year last season, starting two, after a standout college career at Tulsa.
He could definitely step in and become a big part of our depth, Pastorino said.