'13 Season Preview: RSL begins 2013 without familiar faces

Real Salt Lake begins the 2013 season unfamiliar territory.

Known for being one of the most stable franchises in Major League Soccer, RSL starts the new campaign without a trio of familiar faces who have helped contribute mightily to the success of the club over the past few seasons.

Jamison Olave was named the 2010 MLS Defender of the Year, and has partnered Nat Borchers in the middle of the Salt Lake back line to give the club one of the better defensive units in MLS the past four years.

But the veteran was traded to Red Bull New York, along with forward Fabian Espindola, in the offseason in exchange for allocation money.

Espindola finished 2012 with nine goals and seven assists, and the move was met with plenty of negativity around Rio Tinto Stadium.

"I don't read a lot of the stuff about our team, but I know there was a lot of negativity," said RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy. "I don't see it. I think the team has done a good job of getting some allocation money, trading for good players and keeping a core group of guys around.

"We will be ready to compete for an MLS Cup this season."

Grabavoy is certainly optimistic considering that RSL enters the season with more question marks than they have in a while.

One of the players who was acquired with that allocation money is forward Robbie Findley, who enjoyed a successful three-year stint with the Claret and Cobalt from 2007-10.

Findley spent the past few seasons playing in England, but he returns to Salt Lake having scored 29 goals in 96 appearances with the club his first time around.

"We're very pleased to bring Robbie back to Salt Lake," Real Salt Lake general manager Garth Lagerwey said. "He's a talented player and was nothing but a class individual during his first stint here. We feel like his speed will add a dimension to our attack that's been missing since his departure."

Findley will team up with RSL's leading scorer from last season, Alvaro Saborio, who tallied 17 goals.

The two formed an effective partnership in 2010 as Findley managed five goals and four assists playing alongside Saborio despite missing nearly two months while away on international duty.

Speedy winger Joao Plata was also added from Toronto FC to give the attack more width.

Sturdy midfielder Will Johnson was another player who left Salt Lake for allocation money, and his defensive presence will be missed in midfield after he started 26 games last season.

The midfield did get a boost last year when playmaker Javier Morales returned from a horrific ankle injury suffered in 2011 to register a team-high nine assists in 29 games, but he is likely to miss the first few games of the season after undergoing knee surgery earlier this month.

Lovel Palmer's arrival from Portland will help with the departure of Olave, while Chris Schuler's role is expected to be expanded, but the back line will take time to come together.

2012 IN REVIEW: Salt Lake struggled with periods of inconsistency last season and failed to continue the dominant home form that had become a trademark of the club. Four losses at Rio Tinto last season were the most for the club since 2007, but they still managed to finish in second place in the tough Western Conference. However, RSL failed to advance to the conference final after being bounced by Seattle Sounders FC, 1-0, on aggregate.

ACQUISITIONS: Cole Grossman (M), Aaron Maund (M), Lovel Palmer (M), Robbie Findley (F), Joao Plata (F).

LOSSES: Kyle Reynish (GK), Jonny Steele (M), Paulo Jr. (F), Emiliano Bonfigli (F), Justin Braun (F), Jamison Olave (D), Fabian Espindola (F), Will Johnson (M).

OUTLOOK: How well Salt Lake is able to replace Olave will be a big factor considering the team conceded the third-fewest goals in MLS last season. Olave's departure, along with Espindola and Johnson, leaves a few holes in the RSL lineup that head coach Jason Kreis must fill. Findley is a proven scorer and should work nicely with Saborio, but it might be a bigger challenge for the club to continue its strong defensive record. Salt Lake should once again be battling near the top of the West, and a return to dominant form at home will be a big step toward achieving that goal with Salt Lake winning only 11 of 17 games at Rio Tinto last term.