You’d be hard-pressed to find a greater critic of Real Salt Lake than in the club’s captain, Kyle Beckerman.
In victory and defeat, he can always be counted on to offer an honest assessment of his team, even if it doesn’t always paint a flattering picture. So after Real Salt Lake’s disappointing conclusion to the 2016 season that saw the club go winless in the final eight matches after a stellar first 27 matches to the regular season, his optimism about the direction of the team wasn’t falling on deaf ears.
“I thought we made a lot of progress,” Beckerman said of the just-completed campaign, his 17th in MLS and 10th in an RSL uniform. “We’ve still got some work to do, but we’re excited to get preseason started and get after it and see if we can do even better next year.”
The overwhelming tone of the exit interviews as the players went their separate ways for the off-season was one of unfulfilled potential. On September 7, RSL held the second-best record in MLS after running the gauntlet in three consecutive home matches against the Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas and the LA Galaxy. Facing three of the top teams in the West, RSL emerged with a 2-0-1 record that was salvaged by a stoppage-time goal from Juan Manuel Martinez in the final match against the LA Galaxy. That draw represented the 10th time RSL had earned points from a losing position in the season, a sign both of the club’s resiliency and its naivety to allow so many opponents to put them at an early deficit.
Those late-game heroics were harder to come by in the final eight matches of the season, including a 3-1 playoff defeat against the LA Galaxy in the Knockout Round.
And yet, Beckerman – MLS’s all-time iron man after surpassing Steve Ralston in starts and minutes played while becoming the first field player to surpass 400 career appearances this season – sees the silver linings of a season that ended with a dark cloud.
“Anytime you get to the playoffs, it gets some excitement for the club and it gives you a chance,” he said. “We were excited to get back into the tournament and we’ll learn from it and see if we can do better next year.”
The formula for that continuation of RSL’s progress after returning to the postseason after a one-year hiatus in 2015, when Salt Lake missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007, is a simple one for Beckerman. He knows there will be personnel changes on a veteran RSL side – changes that were foreshadowed by General Manager Craig Waibel when he said the team needed to get younger in his own press conference and further emphasized when 10-year midfielder Javier Morales announced his departure from the club via Twitter over a week ago.
However, Beckerman sees players in the locker room that can continue to compete in an ever-evolving MLS.
“It’s just hard work. We’ve got to put our head down and get back to work and see if we can get even more consistent next year,” he said. “I think if we can fine-tune some things we can get right back to the top of the table.”
Real Salt Lake won’t see major changes until the off-season officially gets under way with the Expansion Draft on December 13 and even then isn’t likely to see much aid from outside MLS until the winter transfer window opens in February. RSL is scheduled to open training camp on January 23.