With the season now upon us and RSL's roster now at about 90% complete, it feels like a good time to take a step back and assess how Elliot Fall is doing in his current role as Real Salt LAke's general manager.
It is no small task, given that as outsiders, we don't have full clarity on his budget, nor directives from ownership or the coaching staff. That being said, we'd still like to take a look at who he has brought in during his tenure as general manager, as well as who's departed under his watch. Our goal is to determine whether his time in the role can be seen as a net positive or a net negative.
We want to be fair, and we want to be upfront about what we know and what we simply cannot know. So we, two Sentinel writers, decided to cooperate: one to take the positive position that Fall is doing a good job and why, and another to take the negative position and tell us where he has fallen short.
The international registration window for the United States ends in just over a month, on April 24. We reserve the right to adjust our opinions based on future events, as always. Let's dig in!
In defense of Elliot Fall, by Randal Serr
To appreciate what Elliot Fall did over the past few years as general manager, it is important to put everything into context.
Fall is a guy that was with RSL from the early days, starting in 2007 and working his way up to where he is at now. He saw the club from different viewpoints and different levels and learned from arguably some of the best GMs in the league, namely Garth Lagerwey and Craig Waibel. Surely he learned a lot from them during those years and gained experience that is hard to fully appreciate for us as fans.
He took the role of GM after Waibel left RSL unceremoniously during then-head-coach Mike Petke's fallout, in the midst of a tumultuous era under Dell Loy Hansen's ownership. The end of Hansen's ownership and the year or so without any owner were clearly not ideal times to be the general Manager of Real Salt Lake. Essentially, there was no guidance, no budget, and no clear direction for the future. That is a tough gig.
Those circumstances made things really difficult for the club and especially for those trying to run the team. I am not entirely sure how he did it, but he managed to bring in players like Rubio Rubin and Anderson Julio during that time. It would be really interesting to hear his response when agents or players asked questions about club culture and stability when there was no owner in place.
As we all know, COVID took its toll on everyone, and MLS was not excluded. The following season, in 2021, RSL made a run all the way to the Western Conference Finals, which took everyone, maybe even Elliot Fall, by surprise. But the truth is, he deserves a lot of credit for steering the ship when frustration was at an all-time high and stability was at an all-time low.
Virtually anyone in the front office will tell you how much of an expert he is with the league rules around roster construction, but I do not think that is his biggest strength. I think it is his dedication to the club. He was a fan before he was an employee of the club, and that means something.
Without knowing exactly what the new ownership of Ryan Smith and David Blitzer gave him, it is really hard for us to compare that with what he is doing with roster construction, but he has done pretty well so far. You could make a strong argument that he is barely a year into truly being able to build a roster that he thinks can succeed with an actual vision and a budget (whatever that may be.)
Here is what we do know: There are some really promising new, young players that arrived in Braian Ojeda and Andrés Gómez. Ojeda's late arrival kept him under the radar, but based on a small sample size, he could be excellent. The best players currently in the RSL Academy are under contract and look to have very bright futures — Jude Wellings and Axel Kei, for example. There seems to be a focus on youth and building for the long-term success of the club which makes a lot of sense for this market and the challenge of bringing in immediate impact players with name recognition.
GIve it a bit more time and I think we'll see the growth and grooming of Fall bear fruit.
Elliot Fall must do better, by Miles Dunn
I have the unfavorable job of criticizing Elliot Fall, a man I don't know personally, but whose job directly affects my entertainment and leisure time. I love RSL, and as such, I am passionate about our club rising back to the top of the league and once again becoming the gold standard of what a club can look like when in harmony from the very youngest player to the very senior most front office executive.
Elliot has surely had a number of challenges in his role, as Randal has so eloquently framed things above. However, sports is a results game, it can be cruel. The results for me have been tepid. Sure, RSL made it to a conference final with a team that seemed stitched together with bailing twine and duct tape, and he and Mastroeni should get their flowers for that. But where I really struggle with Fall's performance thus far, falls squarely in the DP acquisitions and lack of youth players making the jump to the first team or a paid transfer out to an international club.
Fall brought in Jefferson Savarino as a designated player, who was originally brought in by Waibel, so we'll give most of the credit to Waibel on that one, although Fall still had to make Savarino coming back feasible. He also has brought in a handful of hopefuls. Guys like Bobby Wood, Rubio Rubin, Andrés Gómez and Jonathan Menendez. None has fully materialized as of yet as a stand-out player for RSL. Maybe this season will be different — time will tell.
In this league, GM's reputations seemingly live and die by their ability to bring in top-end attacking talent. Game changing goal scorers. Something RSL has truly lacked since Alvaro Saborio departed the club: a year-in, year-out double-digit goal scorer. For this lack, criticism should be made of the club and the GMs that have managed the roster. Until Fall can bring in a striker that reliably wins RSL matches and hits double figures each season in scoring, I can't give him my full endorsement.
Fall seems to be an RSL man through and through; he's worked his way up the ranks, paid his dues, and been extremely loyal to the club during some seriously difficult times. For that, I tip my cap. But it must be remembered that he has been a rookie in each role he has taken at the club, including GM. Each promotion has been a "first" for him in that role. That's great, and I don't fault that, but it means he has been learning on the job and drinking from the fire hose.
Certainly RSL's roster could be better, something echoed by the pundits at MLSsoccer.com each time they assess the RSL roster. Now who's to blame for that? It's probably a combination of a handful of people in charge at the club, but unfortunately, the buck stops with Fall when it comes to roster construction, and RSL still has a ways to go if it is ever going to seriously compete for silverware once more.