Real Salt Lake reinvented themselves a bit in 2018 and had their first good season since the Jason Kreis era. Mike Petke stood up for his players, and aside from Justen Glad being in the dog house, they were on the same page. That got them into the playoffs where they had a fantastic upset win at LAFC and nearly pulled off a win against Sporting KC.
Tactics & Key Players
Like many other Western Conference teams, RSL are returning a solid offensive core but have some kinks to workout defensively. Sam Johnson is the new (barely) DP on the squad and will be playing up top. He’s joined by central attacker Albert Rusnak, wide players Jefferson Savarino and Joao Plata. Then there’s Damir Kreilach who doesn’t produce as often, but when he does, it’s usually spectacular.
In the back, it’s central players who provide tempo on the ball and offensively minded fullbacks. Old man Kyle Beckerman has historically been the metronome in the middle for RSL but Father Time is catching up. Brooks Lennon had a decent transition to right back in 2018. He and Aaron Herrera aren’t the best defensive tandem but they’re both capable of overlapping and creating offense.
Most of the changes were up the middle for RSL this off-season. Sunny Stephens and Luis Silva are gone. As previously stated, forward Sam Johnson is the big acquisition. While Silva produced some nice Gifs in 2018, he and Stephens weren’t consistent enough and RSL needed a change.
For a rookie, Corey Baird was excellent as the main forward in 2018, but given all the attacking support, RSL needed a center forward who could match up with the that support system. We’ll see if Johnson can be the man for the sake of RSL supporters and MLS Fantasy players. If not, Baird’s probably the cheapest starting forward in MLS Fantasy.
In a general (non-Fantasy) sense, RSL’s the biggest boggy team for me in the Western Conference. If Petke can get them to click, the homegrowns grow up, and they get decent center back play, I can see them finishing third. I could also easily see them being inconsistent all year and finishing 8th.
As hit-or-miss as they can be, you’re guaranteed to have a decent attacking option at all times. There’s one month out of the year that Plata is a Best XI attacker. Rusnak’s got quality, though there are other central attackers I’d look to first at his price point. Everything else in the attack is a wait-and-see for me depending on how they play with Johnson’s arrival. I’m sure they’ll be good Fantasy players. Just not sure who yet.
Defensively, I have questions. If Petke and Glad have worked through whatever their problem was or wasn’t last year, this can be a good defensive team. Especially at home. I’m curious to see if Nick Rimando looks his age or not this year. That said, I don’t like this team to consistently compete for clean sheets, and that’s one of my biggest requirements when choosing starting defenders.
This one’s pretty straight forward. Other than Petke rotating out one of the winger roles and if he wants Nick Besler to push Glad, you’ve got at least 8 lock down starters when healthy. I wouldn’t put too much Fantasy faith in the middle of the field though. Beckerman’s a liability at his age and will be a drag on his partner.
Rusnak will always be a good shout no matter where he is positionally or who’s around him. Look for a hot hand in the attack. Plata on form will be a great captain option. If you’re looking for value, Herrera and Lennon at full back weren’t more than $5.5 million last year. If he’s starting, Baird’s a great cheap forward. With a good matchup (read: home games), anyone of those three are great Switcheroo candidates.