Nerdy Gales and Matt Montgomery trade three questions apiece as the Earthquakes take on Real Salt Lake in the preseason matchups in Tucson, AZ. First up - Matt answers Nerdy’s questions about what to expect from the 2017 iteration of RSL.
1. Who's in and who's out at RSL before the 2017 season kicks off?
Out? Well, there are plenty of big stories here. Javier Morales and Juan Manuel Martinez are gone, and that changes the dynamic of the side completely. In, we have Albert Rusnak and several players not named Landon Donovan — including some MLS veterans in Chad Barrett and David Horst. Further, in addition to adding some young players, we've brought back Luis Silva to act as attacking depth.
It's going to be a new look for Real Salt Lake, having true, experienced depth in the side. The last two years have seen us with a handful of backups and not much else between the first-teamers and the young homegrown players. This year? It's starting to look like we'll be contenders.
2. RSL made the 2016 MLS Cup playoffs, only to depart in the first round. Will Jeff Cassar focus on defense or offense to improve on their 2016 record?
Offense, without a doubt. Obviously, both needed improvements, but our inability to keep possession in key areas of the field, combined with a huge drop-off in performance from two of our top attackers, meant that we looked distinctly average in the second half of the season. Without Javier Morales and Juan Manuel Martinez, we're going to look different, and it'll be important to embrace the effects of that.
3. With no silverware in the RSL cabinet since Jason Kreis was coach, how much pressure is Cassar under to deliver this year?
It's massive. Expectations at the end of last season were that he was out the door — but a contract renewal later, and we're sitting here with Cassar as the option. But in stark contrast to his last contract, this is a one-year deal with option years — RSL general manager Craig Waibel has positioned the club as having the power to dismiss Cassar after the year if things don't go well, and we have coaches in place who could replace him in Freddy Juarez, who's impressed all the way up the chain from his time with the academy, to Mike Petke, who's been brought in for Real Monarchs.
Next up - Nerdy answers Matt’s questions about what to expect from the 2017 iteration of the Earthquakes - and Steven Lenhart.
1. It seems like the word at San Jose has been "Signings are coming!" for a while now. How are you guys holding up? Are you happy with what you've got so far? Do you feel like you're better this year than last?
The signings are indeed coming, and I don’t think new GM Jesse Fioranelli’s done yet —watch this space!
Recent arrivals through the draft include two players who came through the U23 PDL Burlingame Dragons: Nick Lima (D - a homegrown player) and Christian Thierjung (F); both are products of the Cal Berkeley. Fioranelli has already been busy signing players from Europe (Florian Jungwith: D/M from SV Darmstadt; Danny Hoesen: F loan from FC Groeningen) and the Americas (Marco Ureña: F Costa Rica via Brondby IF; Harold Cummings: Panama via LD Alajuelense).
It’s early to say how any of these new players will pan out – the collection thus far covers the entire pitch, and indicates to me that the club is aiming to improve the overall depth in the squad. It’s disappointing to see Alberto Quintero decide to move to Peru – he was a very creative player. Two players I’m intrigued by are the youngster Kip Colvey (D – New Zealand national player) and the experienced Andres Imperiale (D – Argentina via Saprisse). Neither player saw much playing time last season, and both are held over into the 2017 squad, so I wonder what Dom’s plans are for them.
2. We have to ask: What are your feelings on Steven Lenhart signing in Japan? It's maybe my favorite thing ever, and I was obviously not a huge fan of him as a player.
Honestly, I was surprised to hear this – news of Lenny’s career status was so sparse in 2016, and everyone assumed that his career was over. I hear through the grapevine that he has spent a lot of time in Japan, and there is a video of him making some (hitherto untranslated) remarks in Japanese when he was introduced to the fans.
His on field persona is in stark contrast to his off field personality – he surfs and plays piano in his free time. I surmise he’s as much interested in a change in lifestyle as much as he is in continuing to play soccer. We’ll be keeping an eye on his progress.
3. What's the biggest risk you're facing as a team in 2017?
The biggest risk will be to Dom Kinnear’s tenure as manager if the Earthquakes don’t make the MLS Cup playoffs again. This is his third year in charge, and his biggest challenge (and the club’s biggest challenge) will be quickly learning to work with the new GM, and the considerable number new players they’ve acquired, to ensure a playoff berth. Finding a winning formula with so many new arrivals might require some alchemy with the elements available.