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PREVIEW: Old faces welcome new boss at RSL
by Paul Kennedy, March 5th, 2014 9:15PM

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TAGS:  mls, real salt lake

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[MLS 2014: Western Conference] On Saturday, Real Salt Lake will take to the field in MLS action for the first time in three months since its heart-breaking loss at MLS Cup 2013, a match in which it led with 14 minutes left in regulation and had a chance to win in the shootout. Everyone is back on the field in what is the most experienced lineup in MLS history. On the sidelines, though, is a new boss.

Jeff Cassar isn't a new face, having joined RSL as a goalkeeping coach in 2007 and served as the No. 1 assistant to Jason Kreis, who left after seven seasons to take the head coaching job of expansion New York City FC. Cassar knows the players well. Every projected starter is entering his fifth year of service or more with the club.

2013 Real Salt Lake
Record: 16-10-8.
Finish: 2nd in Western Conference.
Playoffs: defeated in MLS Cup.

“I believe in these guys,” Cassar said in taking the RSL job in December. “I believe in the core group of players that we have. The leadership. The character. It's unbelievable. I believe in the young talent that we have on our team. The future is very bright for RSL.”

That youth will be tested as RSL has three players likely headed to the World Cup -- goalie Nick Rimando and midfielder Kyle Beckerman for the USA and forward Alvaro Saborio for Costa Rica -- and it could be without three starters from the team that won the 2013 Western Conference final for Saturday's opener -- forwards Robbie Findley and Devon Sandoval and defender Chris Schuler.

Western Conference Preview:
Chivas USA | Colorado | FC Dallas
LA Galaxy | Portland

WHY BE OPTIMISTIC? Real Salt Lake has perhaps the strongest team in MLS down the middle with Rimando in goal, Nat Borchers at center, Beckerman and Javier Morales in midfield and Saborio up front.

Add to that Luis Gil, the best young American midfielder in MLS, and veteran Ned Grabavoy (or young Sebastian Velasquez) and you have the most dominant midfield -- on its day -- in MLS. Up front, RSL can go five deep with Saborio, Findley, Sandoval, Joao Plata and Olmes Garcia.

No club has done a better job at developing young players than RSL. Carlos Salcedo provides cover for Schuler, and the club has high hopes for Homegrown signing Jordan Allen from the University of Virginia.

A change in qualification rules cost RSL a berth in next season's Concacaf Champions League, but it could be a blessing as it wouldn't have to deal with the extra fixtures in the fall.

WHY BE PESSIMISTIC? Kreis was a huge presence at RSL and will be sorely missed. No, he couldn't lead RSL to a second MLS title after the 2009 championship, but he rebuilt the team last year and led it to the MLS and Open Cup finals.

Schuler was a big factor in RSL's 2013 postseason success, but he is doubtful for the opener against the Galaxy with a a foot injury. He'd be a terrible loss if the foot problems that have bothered him in recent years linger.

PROJECTED FINISH: 1st-3rd place. Only D.C. United in 2009 has changed coaches after appearing in MLS Cup and returned to the final the next season, so history isn't on RSL's side, but it has the balance of experience and youth to get through the MLS season.



PROJECTED LINEUP: 4-4-2
Goalkeeper:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
18-Nick Rimando (34)/USA (8th season)

Defenders:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
2-Tony Beltran (26)/USA (7th season)
6-Nat Borchers (32)/USA (7th season)
28-Chris Schuler (26)/USA (5th season)
17-Chris Wingert (31)/USA (8th season)

Midfielders:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
5-Kyle Beckerman (31)/USA (8th season)
20-Ned Grabavoy (30)/USA (6th season)
21-Luis Gil (20)/USA (5th season)
11-Javier Morales (34)/USA (8th season)

Forwards:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
15-Alvaro Saborio (31)/USA (5th season)
10-*Robbie Findley (28)/USA (2nd season)

First off the bench:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
13-Olmes Garcia (21)/Colombia (2nd season)
49-Devon Sandoval (22)/USA (2nd season)
8-Joao Plata (22)/Ecuador (2nd season)
26-Sebastian Velasquez (23)/Colombia (3rd season)
Real Salt Lake: complete roster.

Note:
returning players in bold.
*second stint at club.

MARCH SCHEDULE:
March 8: at LA Galaxy, 10:30 pm ET
March 15:
at San Jose, 10:30 pm ET
March 22:
LA Galaxy, 9:30 pm ET
March 29:
Toronto FC, 9:30 pm ET
Real Salt Lake: complete schedule.


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