Real Salt Lake got a much-needed injection of youth this week. The Claret-and-Cobalt signed eight players on Thursday, including both draft picks and trialists, providing young legs and fresh depth to the veteran side.
The question now is how much each of these players will be able to contribute to the squad in 2012, but GM Garth Lagerwey is optimistic.
“I think we wanted to get younger and more athletic and more talented at our reserve positions and I think we’ve done that,” he told MLSsoccer.com via phone from Tucson, Ariz., where the team is competing in the Desert Diamond Cup as part of their final preseason preparations.
Added to the squad were defenders Diogo de Almeida, Terukazu Tanaka (above, left), and Leone Cruz; midfielders Sebastian Velasquez (above, right), Jonny Steele and Enzo Martinez; forward Emiliano Bonfigli; and Home Grown goalkeeper Eduardo "Lalo" Fernandez.
One player in particular has shown so well that he may challenge for more than just a fringe role.
“Sebastian has had an outstanding camp,” said Lagerwey. “I think he is ahead of where we thought he might be. Our concern was that Sebastian might have further to go because of the adjustment from junior college, but that does not appear to be the case.”
Not on offense, anyway, where Velasquez’s left foot has prompted comparisons to both Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben from some of the veterans in camp. But the other side of the ball may need a little refining – particularly the move to the flanks of the diamond midfield RSL use.
“He needs to learn to defend better,” admitted Lagerwey. “He needs to learn the system. He’s a really good kid and he’s picking it up.”
Another bright spot has been Tanaka, a right back who Lagerwey identified while on a trip to Japan in December.
“Tanaka has been really solid – really reliable,” Lagerwey said. “Hasn’t made a lot of mistakes, and that’s what we wanted to see. He’s battled, he’s communicated a lot better than we thought he might be able – he’s worked really hard at English and is speaking a fair amount of English. He’s got a neat personality.”
Tanaka also fits well into the RSL system, which relies heavily on outside backs to bolster the attack and help provide width on the field.
“That’s what we thought when we identified him,” said Lagerwey. “The typical Japanese player will be a good fit in our system. I expect that we will sign more players from that market going forward. I can tell you that we will go back to look for more players.”
The player with the most experience and perhaps most poised to contribute is Steele, who just received his green card.
“Jonny Steele has been hurt, so he’s played very few minutes and so we haven’t seen enough of him to have a final impression,” Lagerwey explained. “He’s a good veteran player. Jonny’s a good, solid player. He’s got to get more fit, and he’s got to get used to playing with everybody. He just hasn’t had a lot of minutes on the field with some of our guys.”