Consistency has played a key role in Real Salt Lake's emergence over the past two seasons.
And that will likely continue into 2011. For the upcoming campaign, RSL return all but Robbie Findley from their core 2010 roster. However, as they make the voyage to Crew Stadium on Tuesday for the first leg of a Champions League quarterfinal against Columbus, they face the unknown.
“I really don’t know exactly what to expect, except perhaps the unexpected in terms of we don’t really know what the weather is going to be like, or exactly what their team is going to be like,” defender Chris Wingert told MLSsoccer.com. “We know it’s going to be a really tough challenge, but they’ve obviously had a lot of changes over the offseason.”
“Right now we’re just trying to focus on playing our best,” he added.
Wingert's teammate Will Johnson was asked if playing their best meant repeating their play from a season ago or adding new twists and wrinkles.
[inline_node:329128]“A bit of both,” Johnson said. “I think consistency is the key for us.”
Johnson, however, said that the team needs to play better, and more consistently, when playing on the road.
“I think that’s an area where we can still improve," he said. "Obviously we took a big step from 2009 to 2010, and I think in 2011 there’s still a lot of progress left that can be made.”
One of the wrinkles the team may have added is on the attacking front, and Tuesday’s contest in Columbus could be the first chance to see this in action. Newcomer Arturo Alvarez, who was picked up from the San Jose Earthquakes during the offseason, could provide another attacking option either in the midfield or up top.
“With Arturo, it’s like he came here and he just fit right in,” team captain Kyle Beckerman said. “We didn’t need to adapt to him, and he didn’t really need to adapt to us.”
Alvarez attributes that to the group he joined.
“I think it’s a good group of guys," he said. "And they’ve taken me in well. I’m getting along well with everyone.”
However, it's second-year player Paulo Jr. who is creating plenty of buzz based on his preseason performances. The young Brazilian striker joined the club late last season and immediately showed some sparks in the limited action that he saw.
“I think we’re seeing Paulo Jr. really hitting stride,” said Beckerman. “We saw some glimpses last season, but now he’s really playing well.”
But while the team may be adding a couple of wrinkles of their own, it’s their opponents that remain an enigma as the Crew have been rebuilding this offseason.
“I think it’s going to be a tough battle, but I believe in this team,” playmaker Javier Morales told MLSsoccer.com.