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What to expect from Real Salt Lake in 2024

RSL's 2024 season starts today against Inter Miami. What can we expect from a little-changed team in 2024 — will a few additions push the team further?

What to expect from Real Salt Lake in 2024

Real Salt Lake kicks off the season today on the road against Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami. If you’re like me, you’re probably saying something like, “What, that’s today? Isn’t it weeks away?” The answer, apparently, is no. It’s time to get ready for the 2024 season and here at Wasatch Soccer Sentinel, it’s season preview time. Let’s go through the biggest questions surrounding RSL heading into 2024.

What should we expect from the new signings?

Welcome to the RSL family Matt Crooks (who definitely looks excited to be here and not at all like he’s an unwilling hostage), Alexandros Katranis, and Fidel Barajas.

Crooks is an experienced attacking midfielder acquired from Middlesbrough F.C. in England’s Championship division. It’s expected that Crooks will feature almost immediately for RSL as a number 10, looking to link up play between the midfield and the striker.

Katranis is a 25-year-old Greek left back who was previously playing in Poland. He is expected to compete for a starting role on the left with Bryan Oviedo, allowing Andrew Brody to likely play more minutes at his natural right back position.

Barajas is a 17-year-old winger who has featured for both the United States and Mexican youth teams. RSL signed Barajas from USL Championship’s Charleston Battery, where he was named the 2023 USL Young Player of the Year with 5 goals and 13 assists in 37 games. Barajas will likely be brought along slowly, as his signing is one with an eye for the future, but there will be some minutes this summer, especially when Diego Luna is away for the Olympics.

Who (else) is going to score goals?

In 2023, RSL made a big splurge and finally got the proven goal-scorer fans have been craving since the glory days of 2013. In Chicho Arango, RSL finally has a striker who can be a game changer and he was an instant success the second he stepped on the field. RSL will be hoping for a 15 to 20-goal haul out of Chicho in 2024.

The problem is that the distance between Chicho and the next striker is… vast. In the offseason, RSL lost Danny Musovski, Jefferson Savarino, and Damir Kreilach. Last season Musovski and Savarino combined for 20 goals and 8 assists in all competitions in 2023. In MLS alone, Musovski, Savarino, and Kreilach scored 17 of RSL’s 44 goals, which is nearly 40% of the total goals scored by RSL players in MLS.

With Musovski and Savarino not directly replaced, the burden now falls onto the combination of Andrés Gómez, Anderson Julio, Maikel Chang, Pablo Ruiz (welcome back, king), Luna and the newly signed Crooks and Barajas to score goals by committee. For RSL to be in playoff contention, those players likely need to score between 25 to 30 combined goals. To reach a home playoff game, the committee probably needs to be closer to 35 goals.

If Chicho misses a big chunk of time due to injury or something else? Well… just pull out your lucky rabbit’s foot, pray to a deity of your choosing, or use whatever forbidden magic is at your disposal to ensure that doesn’t happen.

What’s with the new Assistant Coaches?

Normally, no one notices when a team changes assistant coaches. Most assistant coaches toil in the background doing really critical player development and tactical work without anyone ever knowing their names. This season, RSL did something quite eye-catching and unconventional: fired everyone on the coaching staff except the head coach.These moves did not seem to be up to head coach Pablo Mastroeni — instead it was a mandate of the front office. The team then made three hires/promotions to the main assistant staff adding Nate Miller, Anthony Pulis, and former RSL player and Monarchs head coach Jamison Olave.

In doing so, the RSL front office essentially admitted what many fans had been saying for years: Mastroeni may be a good motivator, but he seems to lack some tactical nous necessary to design a consistent, winning system. In the offseason there has been a lot of talk about how these new coaches have been working to help implement new attacking schemes.

Going into the season RSL is planning to play a 4-2-3-1, with the full backs providing width up the field in possession. RSL fans should still expect some of the switching style of play we’ve come to know under Mastroeni, but this new system should allow some flexibility and movement in attack from the wingers to come inside and combine. RSL will be hoping the new system helps create goals in multiple different types of ways, instead of relying on the same old one or two tricks.

For Mastroeni though… he’s gotta be feeling the heat. The club has made a particular point of emphasis that the new assistant coaches all have head coaching experience, which sounds a little bit like you’ve hired guys who can take over right away if the results aren’t good. Additionally, Masteroni’s contract is winding down, so the other assistants are essentially auditioning for the job if ownership wants to make a change. Keep your eyes peeled, Pablo.

How good is this team?

Some of that remains to be seen, depending on how well the team takes to the new system and how well the new signings integrate. At its best and fully healthy, though? This team looks like it should be competing for a top four spot in the west. At times the attack was scintillating last year and RSL tore teams apart giving a glimpse of RSL’s top end potential… and then Ruiz got hurt and the team really spiraled, showing us the bottom.

Injuries to the wrong players, at the wrong time, could be devastating. Any two players such as Chicho, Ruiz, Luna, or Justen Glad missing at the same time significantly lowers the ceiling for this team. However, this should be a playoff team and not being so would be an absolute failure. Additionally, in order to move up in the Western Conference standings, RSL has to be better at America First Field, where they endured one of the worst seasons in memory there last year. Does this all sound like the same answer as it has been for about the last 4 to 5 years? Yes, absolutely.

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What you should expect: playoffs, at a minimum. What you should hope for: opening the 2024 playoffs at home. Icing on the cake: a couple wins/a deep run in one of the Open or Leagues Cups.

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