Real Salt Lake have always been thorn in the side of the Portland Timbers; even last year, when RSL plummeted to 9th place in the Western Conference and missed out on making the playoffs for the first time in eight years, it was the Utah side who knocked the Timbers out of the U.S. Open Cup. With a new season starting, however, RSL have a chance to rebuild and reassert themselves in the more-evan-than-ever Western Conference.
The Timbers take on RSL this morning in their final 2016 preseason match away from home, so let's take a look at the Kings of Utah and see just how the team is shaping up for this year.
Who is back?
The core of the RSL experience remains the same as it has been for most of the last decade. The Timbers' tormenter, Nick Rimando, remains in goal and, at 36, remains capable of frustrating all but the most well-placed shots; if Rimando has slowed down at all over the last few years, it has only transitioned him from supernatural to just very, very good. Kyle Beckerman, who will turn 34 in April, remains one of MLS's best distributors out of his holding midfield spot. And Javier Morales, 36, has shown off perhaps the most age-less skill set in the league, continuing to place his passes perfectly and beating defenders with a well-timed move rather than a burst of pace.
Plenty of less iconic RSL players are back again this year as well, signaling that head coach Jeff Cassar and company don't necessarily think that a complete overhaul is in order. At the back Jamison Olave, Aaron Maund, Tony Beltran, and Demar Phillips are all back; an outcome that is somewhat surprising given that RSL gave up more goals than every other team in the West save the Houston Dynamo in 2015.
In the midfield and attack Luke Mulholland, Juan Manuel Martinez (a.k.a. Burrito), and Joao Plata all make their returns as well. Of this group, Martinez is the key; the 30 year old Argentine forward lit a spark under RSL late in the 2015 season after his arrival from Boca Juniors, only getting an assist and a goal in the eight games he played for the side, but but winning numerous fouls and giving the side a true threat out on the wing in Cassar's preferred 4-3-3.
Who is gone?
Despite their finish far down the Western Conference table, only a handful of familiar names with RSL left over the offseason.
As noted above, the backline was largely unaffected by departures. Center back Chris Schuler, despite struggling with injuries throughout his time with RSL, was a regular with the side when healthy but simply missed too much time at too high of a salary to continue on.
The RSL midfield and attack, however, had a much higher rate of attrition between 2015 and 2016. Luis Gil and Luis Silva both played out their contracts and were part of this season's mass exodus to Mexico of former MLS players. Designated player Sebastian Jaime also left the side, agreeing with the club to mutually terminate his contract three weeks ago.
Who is new?
RSL have brought in a few fresh faces this offseason, but none are more notable than one that is actually more familiar than the others: Yura Movsisyan, former RSL striker, has returned to the side after leaving for Europe in 2010. Since heading abroad, Movsisyan has been a goal scoring machine in both the Danish and Russian top flights. Movsisyan is not the only returning RSLer, though. Fullback Chris Wingert was picked up off waivers by the club after being cut by NYCFC after the ouster of Jason Kreis.
The side also added defensive midfielder Sunny Obayan. A Nigerian journeyman, Obayan has played for nine different teams in his ten year career, making stops in Spain, Israel, Russia, and Turkey before heading stateside.
Watch it on: Streaming on Timbers.com
Kickoff: 10:30 a.m. PT at Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, AZ