Saturday, March 26, 2005


With opening day in a week, I wanted to share my reaction to RSL's first preseason. As I have not been able to see any of the action you will not find a game by game recap in this article. Simply put, this is my summary and reaction to preseason 2005.

Preseason is crucial for an expansion team. It's the first time all the players come together. It's where on-field relationships are started, or sometimes renewed. Fitness and touch may be a bit rusty, but not lost. Early reports from the RSL camp is that the players all showed up in great fitness. This is a good sign. Playing at the high altitude of Salt Lake City (4700 ft @ U of U campus) will require an added level of fitness. Also this is proof of the players dedication to be their best. Another very good sign.

Games played in preseason get players in game situations as a team. Winning is good, but it's not the end all of playing matches. You never know if teams are going all out or simply working on something. So, when RSL goes through their first several matches, most of them against MLS opponents, and smokes them it's hard to read what that means. Here's my two cents on how I see it. (And please remember that I have not seen a single moment of any preseason game).

What the results mean:

First off, we can score. We have yet to be be shut out by domestic competition. Our midfielders are finding the forwards who are finishing their chances. Nothing is better for a goal scorer's confidence than scoring goals. Added confidence only leads to more goals. Not only are goals being scored, but they are being scored by several different people. Teams with multiple scoring threats terrorize opposing defenses.

The other impression that I have gathered from the score lines is that our defense is fairly penetrable. I understand that our most talented and experienced defender, Eddie Pope, has been training with the national team and recovering from a pelvic inflammation for much of preseason. Also, Coach Ellinger has shifted around lineups to see all of his players in game situations. With this in mind I'm not ultra concerned with the defense. The talent of experience professionals such as Dunie (Brian Dunseth), Behnke, and Akwari can anchor a solid back line. I'm thinking that it is just a matter of familiarity with team mates. Some of the boys have only been playing together since the beginning of February.

The other question that I've had is about our possession game. This can't really be accurately portrayed through stats and match recaps alone. But I haven't read much about the performance of our midfield, specifically Williams and Whitfield. Whitfield is a solid player that doesn't always show up on a stat sheet, but Williams usually gets assists and an occasional goal. But, his worth is not stated on a stat sheet either. How will the midfield control the game for RSL? That's a question that will be answered come opening day.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Jersey Unveiling: A Night Like No Other

Waking up that Saturday morning, March 12th, I wasn't sure what was compelling me to attend the RSL jersey unveiling. Anyone who had frequented the various soccer discussion boards had already seen the new jerseys put out by adidas. Also was the factor of getting to Park City from Logan which required a two-hour drive. Being a sucker for events associated with soccer, and having the privilege of delivering the newly printed Loyalists t-shirts to the club president, I made the drive, and was not disappointed.

My wife came along with the agreement that I join her at the outlet mall in Park City for the afternoon. The deal seemed fair enough and we were off. While at the outlet mall we happened upon a local sports wear store. Stopping in for a quick look one of the workers asked what my Loyalists shirt was all about. I explained and that brought us to the topic of the event being held that evening. The workers informed me that they had the jerseys, but could not sell them until after 6pm. I had agreed that if the team wasn't selling them that I would be back before they closed at 9pm and let anyone else know to come to their store.

The unveiling presentation itself was held outside in a small plaza at the center of town. Entertainment consisted of a break dance team, a couple of Latin folk dance groups, and a really loud MC. I was the first Loyalist to arrive. As other group members arrived I revealed the shirts and they were distributed amongst the group. Everyone seemed pleased with the final product. The atmosphere was very casual. RSL had a merchandise tent but did not have jerseys to sell that evening. There were players and coaches all through the audience. The Loyalists were talking to a gentleman who introduced himself as "Brian", only to find out later it was Brian Kamler. This was probably better that I didn't recognize him as I did Chris Brown. Being a former Wiz and Quakes player I had to shake his hand. I went up to Brownie and shook his hand where at that very moment I lost any thought of something meaningful to say. So, rather than saying something normal like,"Hello", or "How are you", I sputtered something stupid like, "Hi, I just wanted to meet you." Sometimes the giddy fan inside gets the better of us.

The sun set, the air grew cold, and the meat of the presentation got underway. It started with the CEO of adidas North America raffling off some autographed balls. Then followed a group of red clad skiers carrying red flares coming down the mountain next to the plaza. The group made their way down the hill to an oversized replica of the red RSL jersey home jersey. Next some of the RSL players in attendance made an appearance on stage to model the new team apparel. First came the legend, Jason Kreis wearing the red shirt, followed by D.J. Countess in white, Nelson Akwari wore the yellow training shirt, while Brian Dunseth modeled the white jersey, and Sergio Flores finished it off in the home red. Once they left the stage the MC closed the show. With the stage open we figured it was a perfect chance for a Loyalists photo opp. RSL must have thought so as well because no sooner had we jumped on stage for the picture fireworks erupted in the sky above us. After performing some songs for the news crews present we were asked to help the team by folding up the giant jersey left on the mountain. Then came the surprise of the evening.

Upon depositing the folded jersey/banner in a near by temporary RSL office we were informed that Chris Keeney of RSL wanted to escort the Loyalists to a private gathering at a local restaurant. When we arrived we scoped out the two story structure and a group of us gathered at a corner table on the first floor. We confessed that it was the first private party most of us had attended and thus felt a little backwards on how to act. The adidas bigwigs present came over and introduced themselves to our group. They came to say that they wanted our logo on their product. I have never heard of a front office treating it's supporters group so well as RSL has treated the Loyalists. While at this shindig each member of the team front office who we ran into was friendly and welcoming. Players were hanging out everywhere and also very approachable. It gave you the feeling like you were, for an evening, on the inside. It was a special experience for a lot of us. After some appetizers were sent around GM Steve Pastorino gave a speech. Then the new RSL commercials were previewed on various T.V. screens through out the party.

At this point it was getting close to 9pm and I wanted to get my hands on a white jersey before the local shop closed. Although I understand we missed some other festivities and food my wife and I made our exit and were able to arrive at the store just in time. Two guys were walking out as we entered. They had purchased one of the training jerseys. They had also been at the event that evening and wanted to know how to join the Loyalists. I was able to get my shirt and the worker even gave me discount. It was a great PR evening for RSL and it's supporters group. A night like no other.

Photos from the evening. Taken by Loyalist Neil.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Building the Team

Building the squad has been a long process. There were drafts and allocations and trades that led to piecing together the skeleton of the team as well as filling in the gaps with solid personnel.

Our first signing, Jason Kries, is a league legend. He holds the record for career goals scored, current tally before opening day is 92. He's played for Dallas since the league opened in 1996. For RSL he will be a great leader. As he approaches 100 career goals, I don't think Kries is done as far as his playing talents just yet. He will be a great on-field asset. But I also don't think he'll be the prolific goal scorer of his earlier years. This is fine by me. Jason will have many important roles in Salt Lake besides putting the ball into the back of the net. That role will likely fall on Clint Mathis. Fresh off his return from Hannover 96 in the German Bundesliga, Mathis came to RSL because he wanted to play for Ellinger. That motivation should bring out greatness on the field for Salt Lake.

Next came the drafts. I believe there was the Expansion, Super, and Supplemental. The Expansion draft brought many of the players that MLS fans are familiar with, such as Andy Williams, and Delvin (D.J.) Countess among others. Dipsy Selolwane is someone I've seen do some great things while playing for the Fire. The Super draft brought us some cream-o-the-crop youngins. Coach Ellinger went with Nik Besagno for the first overall pick. At the time I didn't know what to think of our first ever pick being a 16 year-old. Now that I've had a few months to digest the idea I realized nobody will accurately know what to think until Besagno works his way into the first team. The kid hasn't even practiced with the team yet. But he is doing great things with the U-17 national team. He's definitely an investment for the future. Don't expect him seeing a great deal of first team action this season. With the newly formed reserve team system this type of addition is new to MLS. I welcome the change, have a reserve squad on each team will only improve the transition that rookies make to professional soccer.

The other three Super Draftees, Jamie Watson, Luke Kreamalmeyer, and Jay Nolley I am very excited about. I first saw a tape of Watson playing for the youth National Team. I was watching the match to get my first look at some kid named Freddy and was also impressed by Watson. At least, he was the only other name I remembered, and I think he even scored in the game. Nolley is fresh off winning an NCAA title with the Hoosiers. Even tough I was pulling for UCSB in the final Nolley stole the show with his performance in the game deciding shootout. He'll be a solid backup for Countess between the pipes. Kreamalmeyer's cool because he and I are from the same state AND he played his college ball at Bradley near my hometown of Morton, IL. In fact, while their soccer facility was under construction the Braves played their home games at a park in Morton. Though I'm not sure whether Luke was at Bradley at the time.

Another player to watch out for is Sergio Flores. Flores is a Utah native, hailing from Smithfield (a small town north of Logan in Cache Valley). He's been playing reserve team ball down in Argentina, and he has been in camp with some of the youth national teams.

And then there was the surprise signing of the year. Eddie Pope was acquired from the Metro Stars. Possibly the best defender the league has ever seen, Pope is a stalwart with dangerous attacking abilities.

The lead roles in the front, middle, and back are established proven professionals, stars if you will. The supporting cast is shaping up to be dynamite. With a great coaching staff RSL will have an impressive opening season.