If you're like me, this MLS regular season seemed to go by way too fast. It feels like just yesterday we were perusing the newly-released schedule and that final game against Chivas USA looked to be so far off; now that game is behind us. So as we look back at the 2013 regular season, with a general consensus that RSL exceeded expectations. After Wednesday's finale, Jason Kreis said it was "nothing short of remarkable" that RSL finished the season top-two in the west. And Ned Grabavoy - one of those players who always gives it to you exactly how he sees it - admitted "I can’t sit here and say that I thought we’d be second or possibly first". So let's dive deeper into how RSL managed to do it.
First off, we have to recognize the depth of the losses RSL suffered in the offseason. This year Will Johnson, Fabian Espindola, and Jamison Olave showed that they weren't just "system" players who thrived in RSL's unique style of play; all of them proved they could play in and even carry other teams. How did RSL cope with their loss while hardly missing a beat? Well, there are a few reasons.
- The new arrivals bought into doing things the RSL way. All we heard from the vets and coaches this year is how hard the young guys were applying themselves to learning the system and embracing the "Team is the Star" mentality. The lack of egos went a long way toward getting everybody on the same page.
- The locker room chemistry was very, very good. After the Chivas USA game, Robbie Findley said that this was the best locker room he had ever been a part of. Any athlete will tell you that the team is much more likely to succeed when the personal relationships are good, and that happened this season. And it's not like everybody put on a happy face while they were at the office - these players genuinely like each other and they do a lot of things together when they're off the clock.
- Several youngsters exceeded expectations. Before the season, the word was that guys like Olmes Garcia and Devon Sandoval might not see first-team minutes this year. Instead they combined for 1881 minutes, 8 goals, and 4 assists. Joao Plata started the season well and just got better and better. And how about Carlos Salcedo coming straight out of the Academy and playing well at center back for a long portion of the year? And that's just a few of the young players who contributed in positive ways.
- A handful of veterans took their games to another level. Javier Morales is back. Grabavoy had the best year of his career. So did Nick Rimando, which is saying something, and if he doesn't win Goalkeeper of the Year it will be a crime. Tony Beltran made his first All-Star team. Kyle Beckerman played himself into World Cup contention. Luis Gil stepped it up this year, and Sabo was Sabo.
There are other reasons why RSL exceeded expectations this year, but these are the ones that stuck out to me. Now we look forward to what should be a very exciting playoff, and then before you know it, we'll be perusing the newly-released 2014 schedule. And if this team can make similar progress next year, I think they have the potential to achieve even bigger things.