Up until last year, Real Salt Lake had the longest playoff streak in MLS, having qualified for every postseason since 2008. The streak ended with a thud. RSL finished ninth in the 10-team Western Conference and their 14-point drop from 2014 was the biggest in MLS.
You'd be tempted to believe this was part of some massive rebuilding, but RSL's core remains largely intact from their glory years. Nick Rimando is still one of the best goalkeepers in MLS, Kyle Beckerman is one of the best defensive midfielders and Javier Morales can still pull off magic. They've also brought back Yura Movsisyan and signed Boca Junior's "Burrito" Martinez, another veteran. This is still a team built to win now, or at least that's the hope.
2015 record 11-15-8, 9th place in Western Conference
2015 Playoffs Did not qualify
Key additions Yura Movsisyan, Stephen "Sunny" Obayan Sunday, Chris Wingert
Key losses Sebastian Jaime, Luis Gil, Luis Silva, Elias Vasquez, Abdoulie Mansally, Chris Schuler
Projected Starting XI (4-3-3) Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Jamison Olave, Aaron Maund, Demar Phillips; Kyle Beckerman, Sunny Obayan, Javier Morales; Joao Plata, Yura Movsisyan, "Burrito" Martinez
After a nice, sustained run as an underdog success story, RSL is coming off their worst season since 2008, so expectations are back nice and low. But with a revamped roster of exciting attacking players, they have an opportunity to, once again, be the paragon of creative play to which other teams in the league aspire.
improving defensively. For success, RSL's season depends on sorting out defensive issues that plagued the team last year. Despite a desire for creative play, giving up early goals meant everyone was on the back foot for most of the match. If they get the defense right and sign a top-tier center back before too long, they could right the ship.
Injuries. It's simple, really, if Real Salt Lake succumb to the injury bug again this year, and if their depth is sapped, they'll have a difficult time recovering. This is part of what derailed 2015: Too many defenders were out of contention, leaving young backups in difficult positions too frequently. While the depth has purportedly increased this offseason, the risk remains.
When 2015 started, Joao Plata started the season with an injury, Juan Manuel "Burrito" Martinez was but a gleam in general manager Craig Waibel's eye, and Yura Movsisyan was performing well at Russian side Spartak Moscow. The attacking triumvirate, which is truly the key to making Jeff Cassar's 4-3-3 work, looks like a significant upgrade, and early indications are that it can be with some improvements to preseason finishing.