SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake supposedly began 2013 in rebuilding mode, only to find themselves leading the Supporters' Shield race as the regular season enters its stretch run.
But while there is plenty to make the fans, coaches, players and front office happy thus far, general manager Garth Lagerwey said the jury is still out on how the season will be judged.
“We haven’t won anything yet,” he told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. “We are in contention for three titles. When we did the rebuild, we said we had to win titles or it didn’t mean anything. So I would say the same thing: ‘We haven’t accomplished anything yet.’”
When Lagerwey met with reporters before the season began and gave a little background on why some of last winter's dramatic personnel moves were made, he stressed that a solid veteran core would help, but that he needed his young players to step up if the team were to find success.
He also said the team should progress as the season wore on.
“We were definitely better in June than we were in March,” he said. “ I am happy with how we finished August, [and] I also said we would be better in September than in June. The measure of that is, 'Can we get everybody playing well at the same time headed into the playoffs?'
“Young players are up and down. We need to make sure we've got everybody on an upswing as we head into the playoffs,” Lagerwey continued. “In August, I think we started to see that. I think our team started to play some very, very good soccer.”
A big part of that has been the play of some of the youngest members of the team.
“I know I’m excited about in particular about guys like [Joao] Plata and [Olmes] Garcia and [Luis] Gil and Carlos [Salcedo] and Sebastian [Velasquez],” noted RSL's GM. “Those kids are ready now to step onto the bigger stage, and we have gotten them a lot of experience during the season.”
Lagerwey said the club's young group of forwards has been outstanding so far, playing an instrumental role in getting the team to the top of the table. Plata, 21, and Garcia, 20, have totaled eight goals and 12 assists between them, while 2013 SuperDraft Pick Devon Sandoval has contributed two goals and some strong target play, mostly off the bench.
“We've got an unbelievably dynamic group of kids,” he said. “[Alvaro Saborio] quietly is having the best year of his career, so when you can pair that with the young kids and all the options you have and all the different looks you can bring to it, has had some success.
“We have so much more speed now up top because it is not just one fast player. We have three really fast players in [Robbie] Findley, Garcia and Plata, and our midfield scoring is up dramatically as a result,” he continued. “When you look at 13 goals last year to 22 this year in the midfield, I attribute that to having more space, to lengthening the field vertically by always having a fast forward on the field that is a threat to the defense.
“It has led to more diversified scoring from our forwards and more diversified scoring in the midfield. That is going to be a key for us going forward.”