This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The roster has been manipulated, changed, fortified, turned over however you want to describe the evolution at Real Salt Lake, it's close to what general manager Craig Waibel envisioned when he first stepped into the role of then-technical director over two years ago.
The organization has had to make the tough calls, the ones where the goodbyes sting now and in the long-term, all the while cultivating an infusion of young, mainly unproven homegrown talents to prove to be the depth or starters for not only now, but for the foreseeable future.
"I think we're in a better spot now than we've been in quite some time in terms of our potential and optimism," Waibel said last week.
That may be, but the 2017 roster is far from complete. Which makes RSL's trek to Arizona Monday for the first leg of a three-tiered preseason camp all the more intriguing.
As of Monday morning, RSL had 21 of a possible 28 first-team roster spots officially filled with a looming Designated Player opening still wide-open. The bull's-eye on Waibel's offseason dart board, he feels, is a direct hit having signed 22-year-old Slovakian attacking midfielder Albert Rusnák to take over the reins as the orchestrator of the RSL attack.
That was the big piece, the necessary one to start the next phase at RSL after the awkward departure of Javier Morales a few weeks after the conclusion of RSL's 2016 campaign.
Yet the club reports to Casa Grande, Ariz., with a roster not totally pieced together. Conversations continue. A couple of MLS veterans in striker Chad Barrett and center back David Horst are expected to be finalized this week. Conversations also continue with what could prove to be a versatile piece in former RSL man Luis Silva, who Waibel expects to be back with the club in 2017 after two years with Tigres in Liga MX.
And, of course, the storyline of the offseason: Landon Donovan potentially leaving the comfort of his Southern California lifestyle to make a shocking move to RSL. Whether that deal is struck remains very much up in the air. RSL coach Jeff Cassar said there's no cause for concern operating the start of preseason without a full roster.
"It's difficult it's life," he said. "I think we're pretty close. I don't think we're too far off of our full roster. The good thing is we could be adding a lot of players that know the league, so that's definitely a positive. Obviously [we] want to get Albert in as quickly as possible, so he can start to adapt to the way we play and the league, especially preseason. It's a good preseason for him because you face all MLS teams."
Rusnák's arrival, which is expected to come sometime while RSL is in Arizona, will no doubt be the focal point of the preseason. For 10 seasons, the show ran through Morales.
"I think it's going to be up to the players who are here now and up to the coaching staff to now figure out who we are without Javier, and how we're going to play without Javier," said RSL right back Tony Beltran. "That's going to be our first big obstacle in 2017."
Three months after RSL's first-round postseason exit, the new-look roster officially reconvenes to usher in what will be a new era at the club. No Morales, no Burrito Martinez, no Jamison Olave. The team has never featured this many young players expected and needed to contribute. Added to the core of homegrown players this offseason is 20-year-old academy product Jose Hernandez, who joins the six others already on the roster.
Toss in MLS SuperDraft picks Reagan Dunk (22) and Justin Schmidt (23) and RSL's depth is younger than ever.
"I think we all feel confident and capable of what we're doing," said Jordan Allen. "I think more than anything, I think we're just ready. This is something obviously we've been waiting for to have more of an opportunity this year."
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RSL's 2017 preseason schedule
• Preseason stop No. 1: Phoenix/Tucson, Ariz.
Monday, Jan. 23: Travel to Phoenix
Saturday, Jan. 28: Travel to Tucson
Tuesday, Jan. 31: RSL vs. Portland Timbers and RSL v. NY Red Bulls in Tucson, Ariz.
Friday, Feb. 3: RSL vs. San Jose Earthquakes in Tucson, Ariz.; return to Utah
• Preseason stop No. 2: Portland Timbers Preseason Tournament, Portland, Ore.
Tuesday, Feb. 7: Travel to Portland, Ore.
Thursday, Feb. 9: RSL vs. Portland Timbers, 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 12: RSL vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, 3:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Feb. 15: RSL vs. Minnesota United FC, 6 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 16: Return to Utah
• Preseason stop No. 3: Southern California
Sunday, Feb. 19: Travel to Irvine, Calif.
Tuesday, Feb. 21: RSL v. LA Galaxy at Carson, Calif.
Saturday, Feb. 25: RSL v. TBD
Sunday, Feb. 26: Return to Utah