Questions: Real Salt Lake Takes Responsibility

RSL's Nick Rimando expects more from his club in 2013.  Credit: Michael Janosz -

Tony Edwards – San Jose, CA (Jan 22, 2013) US Soccer Players – Tony looks at the expectations Salt Lake’s leadership has for 2013, sees John Thorrington land in DC, and examines the stark contrast in ratings between major league sports.

How does the leadership of Real Salt Lake feel about the 2012 season?

They failed.

“…[A]ll of us felt that we failed,” head coach Jason Kreis said at the team’s media day this past weekend. “Not just ‘not succeeded,’ but ‘failed.’ I tell the players that we strive for perfection.”

If only more MLS franchises would do so.

US National Team player Nick Rimando echoed his coach. “…[W]e haven’t gotten as many trophies as we’ve wanted. That’s where the ‘failure’ comes into play.”

On the scale of how you’d like your coach to help sell season tickets, maybe branding last season as a failure isn’t at the top of ‘things sales would like him to say’ list, but in terms of setting standards and keeping overall goals in mind, most MLS franchises could take some notes.

You know what separates Salt Lake, Seattle, Houston, and the Galaxy (and maybe Kansas City) from the rest of MLS? These franchises don’t talk about what they are going to do. Instead, they set high standards (read: trophies and continental competition) and achieve their goals. When they fall short (as Seattle and Salt Lake did last season), they don’t feel the need to re-orient everything. There’s a basic trust in their players, their coaches, and their process.

Is Mike Fucito this season’s Alan Gordon for San Jose?

Remember the fuss before last season when Seattle obtained Eddie Johnson and traded Fucito to Montreal? Unfortunately for Fucito, he struggled and ended up being part of three different organizations last year (Seattle, Montreal, and Portland). He went from more than 1,000 minutes in 2011 to less than 450 in 2012.

Yet, as part of a draft day deal, San Jose added what looks like a classic Frank Yallop project: a still-young forward (Fucito is 26) who is experienced and won’t need to do too much, yet could still play a key role in San Jose’s season, which features multiple competitions.

It’s fair to say that Fucito (listed as 5′ 9” and 165 pounds) isn’t coming in to play the Steven Lenhart-banger role for the Earthquakes, but he does give the team an option for when the long-season and playing style takes its inevitable toll on Lenhart and Alan Gordon.

Hey, by the way San Jose, update the roster on your website, please?

What is perhaps the most compelling reason for MLS to add a New York City-based franchise?

Maybe, just maybe, it would force the Red Bulls to it together. Look, turning around a franchise, especially one as mismanaged as the Red Bulls/MetroStars, isn’t an easy or quick job. Sporting director Andy Roxburgh has done an admirable job of cutting off some of the problems from the last few seasons, bringing in some experienced, dynamic MLS talent. That’s as far as I’m willing to go. Training camp opens this week, the draft has taken place, and there’s no head coach. At this point, the franchise is setting up whoever they bring in, unless it’s Mike Petke, to fail this season.

This is yet another example, after Toronto and Montreal, of MLS teams apparently willfully ignoring what has worked in this League. The Red Bulls could have chosen Petke, or Eric Wynalda, early in the off-season and given the team time to build. As it is, Roxburgh has emerged as the central figure in New Jersey, and your sporting director shouldn’t be an MLS team’s central figure.

Even in a system where the Technical Director/General Manager/Sporting Director is responsible for roster building and the first-team coach ‘just’ coaches, you have to play to your coach’s strengths. You can’t do that if you don’t have a coach. Even if you accept that most teams might be taking the first few days of training to work on basics, it sends the message to the players that even in a short off-season, team management can’t settle on a coach.

What does the signing of John Thorrington say about DC United’s ambitions?

It says DC is willing to put the pieces together to give Ben Olsen some more flexibility and depth.

Along with rejecting, at least initially, an offer from Anderlecht for Andy Najar, right now DC looks solidly entrenched as third favorite in the Eastern Conference behind Houston and Kansas City.

What’s interesting about the Eastern Conference going into 2013 is pegging which teams will be ripe to slide out of the playoff picture. After Houston and Kansas City, that leaves eight teams competing for three playoff spots. DC is probably the class of those eight teams, but are they at Houston/KC level or are they at Red Bulls/Chicago level?

MLS has a history of a team coming from seemingly nowhere. If you had to suggest a team that could do that in 2013 in the Eastern Conference, Philadelphia might be that team. They come into the season better organized and seemingly free of the distractions that disrupted their early 2012 season.

What’s a stark reminder that MLS’ talk about becoming an elite league is still just talk?

Sports Illustrated’s media critic Richard Deitsch reported that the overnight ratings on NBC for regional National Hockey League games on Saturday was a 2.0 nationally, and considerably higher in Philadelphia (7.8) and Chicago (6.6) [NBC showed either the Blackhawks at Los Angeles or Pittsburgh versus Philadelphia]. Yes, it was opening weekend and there might have been a curiosity factor, but wouldn’t MLS love a curiosity factor that leads to a 2.0 national rating.

Tony Edwards is a soccer writer from the Bay Area.

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