As a symbol of the past as well as the future, Yura Movsisyan fits perfectly into the persona of Real Salt Lake.
More than six years after helping RSL win its first and only league title in 2009, Movsisyan returns as the team is undergoing a metamorphosis. The changeover in head coaches from Jason Kreis to Jeff Cassar and in ownership from Dave Checketts to Del Loy Hansen during his absence are two among many differences noticed by Movsisyan, who met the media last week prior to the start of training camp.
“The city looks different, maybe it’s bigger,” he said of getting lost a few times while driving to his hotel and while searching out possible places to buy a home. “Some places I remember there was nothing there and now there are buildings or stores so that is something I will have to figure out as I get settled.”
A settled Movsisyan would certainly help RSL, which needs a boost on and off the field. Drafted after playing just one season of junior-college ball, Movsisyan scored 15 goals in 53 games for RSL before moving to Denmark as a free agent and then on to Russia, where he scored 48 goals in 112 Russian league matches for FC Krasnodar and Spartak Moscow.
He’s come back to MLS on a one-year loan, which will knock down the transfer fee Spartak will eventually receive when a transfer is consummated. The move bolsters RSL’s attack at a most opportune time, since its attack has steadily been depleted during the past six months.
The team’s all-time leading scorer, Alvaro Saborio, was traded to D.C. last August in exchange for Luis Silva. He’s left the league as a free agent during the offseason to play in Mexico, as did the highly touted but sporadically productive Luis Gil. Last week RSL confirmed reports that it had parted ways with former Designated Player Sebastian Jaime, who joined Chilean club Universidad Catolica. He had managed just five goals in 26 games the past two seasons.
The RSL cupboard is not quite bare. Winger Joao Plata is a threat against any team and playmaker Javier Morales still reigns among the top playmakers. Yet Jaime was second to Morales on the team with five goals, and Devon Sandoval and Olmes Garcia combined for a grand total of six goals in 63 games. Teenager Sebastian Saucedo failed to score for the first team (nine games) and the USL Real Monarchs (seven) and has been loaned to Veracruz in Mexico. Injuries limited DP forward Juan Martinez to one goal in eight games.
In Movsisyan, 28, RSL not only has a throwback to its MLS Cup team, it has an ambitious player in his prime honed by five rugged European seasons.
“I think the fans will be surprised when they see him,” says Cherif Zein, who coached him in Southern California at Pasadena High School and Pasadena City College. “He is bigger and stronger and he is very happy to be back.
“Life in Russia in much different, much harder than it is in America, even if you are with a big club like Krasnodar and Spartak and playing well and scoring goals. I think he and his family missed their life here very much."
Luring back Movsisyan -- who is married with two children and a third on the way -- is a significant mark in the tenure of general manager Craig Waibel, formerly an RSL assistant coach who became technical director 13 months ago and took over as GM in August. He’s rebuilding a team that missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007, the year that Kreis took over as head coach and guided the team until leaving at the end of the 2013 campaign. Kreis negotiated the trade that brought Movsisyan to RSL from Kansas City in September 2007.
“He’s a strong presence,” said Waibel, a defender in his playing days who faced Movsisyan a few times in MLS games. “He strikes the ball very well from distance, but also attacks the ball well in the box and has good instincts. He’s very tricky in his movements and getting away from players.”
Movsisyan arrived too late to play against his idol, Thierry Henry, but is looking forward to meeting the likes of Steven Gerrard and Andres Pirlo and Didier Drogba on the field. Movsisyan joins a few holdovers from the 2009 RSL team -- Morales, Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman have stayed on board, and Jamison Olave has returned after a stint with the Red Bulls – and knows that while the landscape of the league and the city has changed, other aspects have not.
“The identity of the team is the same,” he says. “I know Jeff and Craig well, and they are good people who work very hard. The people here care about the team. I met Del Loy Hansen toward the end of 2009 when we were in the playoffs and he had just come on the board with Mr. Checketts.
“He came to the airport and I met him yesterday and talked to him. I spent a good amount of time with him and he’s just seems to be an amazing person; very passionate about the game and very passionate about Salt Lake and the team. That’s what you want as an owner.”