Real Salt Lake kicked off training camp on Monday and following the opening sessions, General Manager Craig Waibel sat down for an extended Q&A session. This is the first part, focusing on Real Salt Lake's roster entering the 2018 season.
Nick Rimando is back for his 12th season with Real Salt Lake. How good was it to finally get that one pushed over the line?
“That one took a while. It took a little longer than everyone wanted, including Nick. But there were some details that we needed to get sorted out at the league level. When you keep a guy like Nick, the way he performs, how consistent he is and all the records he holds, it’s impossible to look at it and think there was any good reason not to have him here. It was always a goal to re-sign him. It’s a testament to our club that he wanted to be here. And it’s a testament to our fanbase because they are the ones that make him love it. I think it all came into place. And I think Nick was really mature in how he went about things. He looked around at different markets, including ours, and really wanted to make an educated decision – and that’s what he did. And more power to him because I think we get a better man, a better player and a better leader in our locker room because he went through the proper research and decision-making process in order to get back to where he should have been the whole time, which is right back here.”
From the standpoint of defenders, you’ve got to be happy with the guys that closed out last season, but what stands out to you about the defensive group, in what you bring back and the people you’ve added?
"We have leadership. We have David Horst and Marcelo Silva in the middle who are very experienced guys. Shawn Barry joins us with multiple years of professional experience. Justen now almost counts as a veteran, but I Really don't want to get too carried away on Justen because he is still young. At the end of the day, we have a great balance in there of leadership and that's what we're trying to create all over the roster. On the right side, with Tony's injury we don't necessarily have that balance of leadership, but we have Tony here. His influence in the locker room even when he's injured is phenomenal. The tone, the way he goes about his rehab... everything he does is professional. Then you go over to the other side at left back and you've got Demar balanced off with Danilo and that's going to be a fun little battle to watch from a fan perspective, coach perspective, a GM perspective. It's a really good balance along the back line and I think there are multiple different combinations they can play and a ton of different ways we can present teams problems with our backline."
What kind of things were you looking to do with the additions of Adam Henley, Shawn Barry and Aaron Herrera?
“There is a balance that comes with building the roster and making sure we can be consistent throughout, wanting to be able to sustain injuries and making sure we can inject players into the roster and maintain our quality. When we were building it we were thinking a lot about the balance and the specific characteristics of those players. And while we can present different looks, all of those guys have the capability to replace the player in front of them and actually play very similarly. We don’t have to change our entire style of building out of the back and attacking.”
In the midfield, Kyle Beckerman is a lot harder to spot on the field, isn’t he?
“He’s still the guy who’s working really hard and setting a tone. He’s still vocal. He’s still exactly who he is. But it is a little harder to spot him. It’s really impressive having watched the guys check in and do their physical testing. The way this group treated the offseason is phenomenal. This is hands-down the most fit and hungry that our group has looked on a day one since I’ve been here.”
How much of that is Mike Petke’s influence?
“I think everyone deserves credit. Mike deserves credit. I think environment is a big piece of it. But I also think guys like Kyle, guys like Tony, guys like Nick … those guys deserve credit. They’re the ones that set the tone. Leadership always sets the tone in a locker room. And a locker room will innately follow the guys with the most experience and the most influence. We are lucky because those two things are the same. The guys with the most experience have the most influence and it’s positive. It’s a really great reflection on this environment, this locker room and the mutual respect that they have for one another as players to come back as fit as they’ve come back.”
When you look at the attacking four, bringing Albert Rusnák back after the season he had last year leading the charge and you’ve got Jefferson Savarino and Joao Plata and Luis Silva had a good season and now with the addition of Alfredo Ortuno … you must feel good not only about the players you have here, but how much those players are going to challenge each other to keep up the play we saw out of this team over the last half of last season.
“It all comes back to something I mentioned and it’s the mutual respect these guys have for one another. It’s so healthy that there is no animosity. It’s pure competition on a daily basis. Challenging the status quo, which I’ve talked about for years, means bringing the right people in. If you challenge the status quo with just talent, you’re going to lose the other side of that fight in terms of the locker room and the environment. It’s important that we bring in people that are respectful. We bring in people that want to fit in, but want to compete. And that gives the coaches a great environment to manage. And they do. I think Mike and the other guys do a great job of managing this environment.”
Speaking of challenging, Brooks Lennon is with Justen Glad and Danny Acosta at US National Team camp. He’s challenging every day to get playing time. How much do you think that helps a young player who gets the opportunity to get the experience, but still has to fight for that playing time?
“One thing I’ll never apologize for doing, and I joke with Mike about this all the time, is challenging the coaching staff to make tough decisions. I don’t think the fans would want an apology for that either. We’re tireless in the way go about trying to challenge the roster within the guidelines of the salary cap. We’re always going to make that next step, that next challenge, that next progression in terms of how this plays out and the decisions they have to make. The biggest thing for us is when we bring in a new challenge is not missing the mark. You’re not going to hit the mark every time, but over the last year and a half, we’ve managed to bring in more successful and contributing players and pieces for the coaches to go after than the other. That’ll be the goal, but you’ll never hear me apologize for presenting a situation where good players are competing with each other for time.”
What has you most excited about 2018 for Real Salt Lake?
“I think the vision and the identity that these players and these coaches have worked tirelessly to create for our fans and I believe we’ve brought in some players who will assist in further exemplifying what the fans expect to see when they come to our stadium. That’s a competitive environment. It’s a fun team to watch. It’s the ball on the ground. It’s connectivity. And ultimately goals. We have a very strong roster that’s set to compete week in and week out and that, in and of itself, excites me.”