TUCSON, Ariz. – Real Salt Lake believe in their core. Head coach Jason Kreis is clear about that in explaining why his team made the fewest offseason acquisitions of any MLS club this winter.
In fact, 10 players who will take the pitch for the Claret-and-Cobalt in 2012 – Nick Rimando, Javier Morales, Fabián Espíndola, Kyle Beckerman, Chris Wingert, Tony Beltran, Jámison Olave, Nat Borchers, Will Johnson and Kyle Reynish – will have been with the team a minimum of five seasons.
That’s remarkable for a simple reason: No team in league history has ever kept such a large core together for that long. But Kreis says retaining that nucleus this year was never a foregone conclusion.
As RSL approached this offseason with difficult decisions to make and little relief under the salary cap, the option was on the table for Kreis and GM Garth Lagerwey to rebuild. But sentimentality – and loyalty – won out.
“We collectively made a decision not to do that,” the RSL head coach told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday from the team’s hotel here. “We collectively made the decision to support the guys who’ve been here a long time and give this team a little bit longer to win something again.”
As a result, RSL opted to re-sign both striker Espíndola and midfielder Ned Grabavoy, maintaining their nucleus even while losing veteran faces like Robbie Russell (who asked to be traded to D.C. to be closer to his wife) and Andy Williams (to retirement).
And while the bottom half of the roster is ever-changing with less expensive, less experienced role players, 11 of the 14 players who appeared in the finals of the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League are still on the roster. And that’s no coincidence.
“That was a big, bitter disappointment for all of us,” Kreis said of the heartbreaking loss to Monterrey last spring. “We can give this same group one more shot at getting back [to the finals].”
Thanks to their Supporters’ Shield third-place finish last season, Real Salt Lake will return to the CCL for the 2012-13 tournament, which kicks off in July. And much like they did during the 2010 and 2011 MLS seasons, Kreis and Lagerwey are making CONCACAF glory a priority for their team, and have eyes on a return to the finals in May of 2013.
Wth that in mind, he adds, the team is very cognizant that they’ve got 18 months to win as much hardware as they can – including the coveted CONCACAF crown – before the inevitable end of what they hope will be remembered as a dynasty.
“With the way the salary cap in our league is structured, you’re faced with a decision of when you’re going to start turning things over,” Kreis said. “And we’re not ready to do that yet.”