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.