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Ask Craig Waibel about his quest to sign a center back and Real Salt Lake's general manager will take a deep breath and eventually exhale. He's been a few steps away from signing any one of three international central defenders this offseason, but for various reasons, all three deals fell short of completion in the 11th hour.
"I'm still committed to being patient with it," he told the Tribune. "The last thing I want to do is panic and bring in a Band-Aid. It's the hardest thing to go through, because we're trying to make a good organizational decision and in the short-run, it's difficult to not add the depth."
After talks with Ghanaian center back Jerry Akaminko broke down, Waibel said last week RSL had a list of potential targets that included Costa Rican, Greek and Mexican defenders. The list of targets, Waibel said, expands and contracts every day. A few days ago, there were eight names on the list.
It's since shrunk to five.
"We've got some good names on the board again," Waibel said. "We're in the infancy stages of trying to get to know the players and studying them a bit more. Our budget hasn't changed. We're still shopping the exact same way we were. We're trying to be patient enough to get more than what our money is worth."
Moving forward, Waibel said the plan is to keep a roster spot and the appropriate budget open for the center back RSL eventually signs.
» Trio of rookies agree to terms with Monarchs
According to Waibel, RSL and Real Monarchs have agreed to terms with rookies Max Lachowecki, Amass Amankona and Connor Sparrow. Waibel said Amankona has signed his deal with the Monarchs, while Lachowecki and Sparrow have verbally agreed to deals and will be signing soon.
"It means we've done well in our drafting to want to keep and retain all of them," Waibel said.
All three spent the preseason with RSL in Oceanside, Calif., and Tucson, Ariz. Lachowecki was RSL's second-round pick, a speedy left back out of Notre Dame. Amankona was RSL's third-round pick, an offensive midfielder out of Dayton. Sparrow, a goalkeeper out of Creighton, was taken by RSL in the fourth round.
» Okwuonu update
RSL right back Boyd Okwuonu was recently featured with NASL club Minnesota United FC during a preseason tournament against MLS clubs in Portland, Ore. Waibel said since Okwuonu didn't travel to Monterrey for RSL's first leg against Tigres UANL, the RSL front office wanted to find an opportunity for the second-year outside back to play some competitive minutes.
Asked if he's explored the possibility of loaning Okwuonu this season, Waibel said he's open to whatever helps his young right back earn the most playing time.
"From my seat, I have a player that can get games, so I'm going to get him games," Waibel said. "If it develops into anything, OK, we'll deal with it if it comes. The intention was to keep him playing. He's too young to not train, not play and he would've come home and trained maybe a day and played in 45 minutes of scrimmage."
» Cassar wants more accountability on set-piece defending
Jeff Cassar and his staff have emphasized set-piece defending the last two seasons. Despite managing the pressure put on by Tigres in the run of play during Leg 1 of the CONCACAF Champions League series, RSL's shortcomings came on two set pieces that Tigres capitalized upon.
After breaking down the footage of the first leg, Cassar said the organization on defending set pieces was up to par, but it's what came after that led to breakdowns.
"I thought dealing with the first ball was good," he said. "It was then everybody staying with their runners after that. That's really a focus thing. We showed all the set plays today [on video]. The organization was good, our line was good, dealing with the first ball was good, it was that turning off for that split-second and you get caught ball-watching, but hopefully that will be corrected for this game."
Asked if that drop-off is a byproduct of fatigue, Cassar said it's possible.
"But, at those times, that's the time you've got to really hold yourself accountable and really focus," he said. "Obviously fatigue could be something, but really, we've got to hold ourselves more accountable."
» Morales on the mood
Javier Morales: "Right now we are pretty confident in ourselves, because I think we have an opportunity to play at home, you know, [and] it's just two goals. I think the way we have to look at the game, just looking for one goal and then you're going to be one goal away. So I don't think it's going to be crazy, especially playing at home. I have confidence in this team."