This is an archived article that was published on in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Cliffhangers await every Real Salt Lake offseason, but this one has question marks tattooed around the entire franchise following RSL's first-round playoff loss in Southern California on Wednesday.

The head coach, a voice around the club for a decade, awaits his fate. Another MLS expansion draft hangs over a team that must choose between sticking with the status quo or mixing it up.

Yes, RSL ensured that the blip of missing the postseason in 2015 didn't become a trend, but the struggles down the stretch were never patched up. RSL went ice cold at the worst possible time.

And RSL's front office has work to do. It must ensure that the starting lineup in 2017 features more speed, athleticism and scoring punch, that the club's depth can be called upon and deliver game-changing performances when needed.

But, most importantly, who leads this group in 2017? That's the first, and ultimate, cliffhanger to kick off RSL's offseason.

What's next for Cassar?

For the fourth time in as many seasons, a figurehead of RSL enters an offseason with his contract status unresolved. Cassar's three-year deal is about to end; he follows former coach Jason Kreis (2013), ex-general manager Garth Lagerwey (2014) and former team president Bill Manning (2015) being stuck in limbo.

Glass half-full: Cassar, who became coach during a period of significant roster turnover on a team known for its stability, made the MLS postseason in two out of three seasons in the superior Western Conference.

Glass half-empty: Has RSL made big enough strides for owner Dell Loy Hansen to give Cassar another go? The late-season collapse might overshadow what RSL was able to accomplish the first six months of the year, and there is a portion of the fan base that has wanted a new voice in that position. In three playoff matches during Cassar's tenure, RSL is 0-2-1 and has been outscored 8-1.

The Tribune reported on Oct. 7 that a contract offer had been extended to Cassar. Three weeks later, no announcement has been made.

Age is a number, but time is undefeated

For a decade, Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and Javier Morales have been RSL's spine, including a run to the MLS Cup title. But will Beckerman (35 in 2017), Rimando (38 in 2017) and Morales (37 in 2017) be together for an 11th year in a row?

The RSL core that burned brightly around the league for so many seasons is aging, and this season, collectively, was one of the trio's least productive. Morales, after tallying 25 goals and 34 assists combined the previous three years, had four goals and four assists this year. In 27 starts, Beckerman had no goals for the first time since 2003, managing one assist. And Rimando had six shutouts in 30 starts behind what was a porous backline for much of the year.

Are the dips in production due to the formation change enacted a year ago? In this rangy version of the 4-3-3, Beckerman and Morales are asked to cover a lot of ground, and while neither were ever speedy players in their prime, the midfielders don't have the burst they once had.

"All three of them have a lot of soccer left in them and they're going to contribute to our club," Cassar said when asked if the three pillars will return. "Very, very thankful they're part of our roster, but now's not the time to do that. We'll visit everything."

The RSL front line

Yura Movsisyan, Joao Plata and Burrito Martinez left opposing coaches scratching their heads for most of their first season together. Armed with speed, incredible on-the-ball ability and precision passing, the RSL front three made teams pick their poison. Through Sept. 7, they had 25 goals and 17 assists combined.

And then they dropped off. All at once.

Movsisyan's lingering heel injury might have played the largest role in the decline. The center striker demanded the attention of two defenders at a time and played beat up. Yet the last two months were an ongoing theme — players trying to go at an entire defense alone or making one too many passes instead of firing as shot on goal when given the opportunity. The movement that was once so organic waned.

Martinez had one goal and one assist after July 1 and was often animated in his frustrations when being subbed off by Cassar, most recently in the 58th minute of the playoff loss in L.A.

The moments of brilliance in 2016 were breathtaking, but the late fade suggests that the front three must diversify their approach and style if they are to stay intact.

Back to the future

Sooner or later, RSL will have to roll the dice and see what its homegrown talent has to offer. Whether that comes in 2017 remains to be seen.

Justen Glad's emergence was a definite positive to take out of the 2016 season. The 19-year-old center back started 27 games and proved to be a face of the RSL back line moving forward.

Jordan Allen must follow suit in 2017. The versatile 21-year-old midfielder appeared in 23 games in 2016, while starting 11. It's clear that his ceiling as a midfielder or wide forward is high.

Beyond that, RSL has five other homegrown players on the roster and the No. 5 pick from the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, Jamaican midfielder Omar Holness, whose rookie campaign was slowed due to an on-field seizure he suffered in March. RSL rated Holness the No. 1 player on its board last year and need to get the tall, imposing midfielder more of a go next season. Holness started three games in 2016.

Tapping the well of young talent does come with challenges, especially for Cassar, should he stick around as head coach, as ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman points out.

"That is not an easy situation for [Cassar] all of sudden to have to tell those [older] players that he's been through so many big moments with to say, 'Guess what? Your time is done,' " Twellman said. "That's very, very tough."

Twitter: @chriskamrani