By TRAVIS CLARK
The defending champions are out to prove that last season was no fluke. Real Salt Lake earned a bit of notoriety by winning the MLS Cup after posting a losing record in the regular season.
After an offseason of minimal change, there's reason to be optimistic about a side that returns almost every starter from a championship winning side. The added rigors of the CONCACAF Champions League will stretch the squad to the limits as six extra games are tacked on to the schedule.
Only a few new faces dot the RSL roster — U.S. youngster Luis Gill will likely be used sparingly in his first professional season, while rookie Collen Warner could play a big role out in the west.
Here's a look at 2010 Real Salt Lake:
2010 REAL SALT LAKE
Players to Watch – Robbie Findley, Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman, Will Johnson
Key Arrivals – Ãlvaro Saborío, Collen Warner, Luis Gil
Key Departures – Chris Seitz, Clint Mathis, Yura Movsisyan
Projected Lineup (New starters in bold)
————-Robbie Findley——-Ãlvaro Saborío————
Will Johnson———-Javier Morales———Andy Williams
Chris Wingert–Nat Borchers–Jamison Olave–Robbie Russell
Big Question – Can Real Salt Lake find some consistency? There's no doubting the talent Jason Kreis has at his disposal, but the club has struggled to put it together on a regular basis — especially on the road.
A dismal away record of 2-11-2 played a huge role in their poor record in 2009, and if Salt Lake can put together some quality performances away from Rio Tinto, they'll be challenging for top spot in the West in October.
X-Factor – The loss of Yura Movsisyan and his eight goals could be a huge blow, though the signing of Costa Rica international Ãlvaro Saborío could make RSL fans quickly forget the inconsistent Movsisyan. U.S. fans will last remember seeing Saborío torment the men's national team, scoring within two minutes back on June 3, 2009 during a World Cup qualifier.
If the Costa Rican quickly adapts to life in MLS, the striker tandem of Findley-Saborío could soon be one of the most dangerous in the league.
Outlook – Entering this season as the defending champions means that the pressure will be on from opening kick. The quest to become the third club to win back-to-back MLS Cups is no small task, though it's safe to say that with such little turnover and a talented roster, the possibility to repeat is there.
With a formidable midfield led by Beckerman and Morales, a little consistency early on in 2010 would set the tone for Salt Lake's title defense. Whether they can weather the storm of the Champions League and still stand at season's end is another story.