What did our beloved Claret and Cobalt do the evening of March, 10th? They did what they trained for. They did what they most wanted. They did what they are capable of. They “came to score” (The Aggrolites).
We've heard in recent weeks some rumblings about our squad depth, including a blip from RSL President Bill Manning about our wage structure perhaps limiting depth slightly while boosting the quality of the first 15 to 18 players. I suspect he's right, and while some might argue that this is a bad thing, I'd dispute that quite heavily.
Perhaps it's not so much that we lack in depth but that there is a drop off in quality after those 15 to 18 players. While this is the case with many squads, our top players are at such a level that it's hard for a significant drop-off to be avoided. Anyway, that being what it is, I thought it might be elucidating to take a look at our depth at this point in the season, assess where we've changed, and figure out where we're going.
Goalkeepers: Our depth here is practically unchanged for years now. Nick Rimando keeps his top spot, while Kyle Reynish is, to my mind, a capable backup, despite his poor showing earlier in the season. Lalo Fernandez is a promising third, despite suffering a wrist stress fracture. However, that injury does affect our short-term depth, as a significant injury to either Reynish or Rimando.
Central Defenders: If you asked me at the start of 2011 where we were the least deep, I might have answered with this. But the rise of Schuler and the arrival of Watson-Siriboe in the place of Leone Cruz has eased concerns significantly, and we know the quality possessed by injury-free players like Borchers and Olave. However, recent injuries to Olave, and Schuler's long-term absence this campaign have hit us a bit. Short-term depth is a concern, as above, but long-term depth is quite nice indeed. (AHEM: Right before I posted this, I learned that Schuler has returned to training. Read more)
Full Backs: Another one of those boosted spots, our depth at full back has improved from the start of the campaign. We brought in Kenny Mansally in place of Chris Estridge, who came in for Diogo de Almeida. Third time's the charm, they say, right? It seems to have worked so far — Mansally is an attacking full back with a load of MLS experience, while the other two were rookies. An improvement? Immediately, yes. Could both still make it in this league? Perhaps. It's a tricky thing, bringing players on.
On the other side of the pitch is Terukazu Tanaka, who we haven't seen much recently. Indeed, he's played (and started) only four matches this season, which, for a first-year player with professional experience overseas, isn't particularly encouraging. His last appearance came on June 30 in a 2-0 loss at Columbus — not too long ago, but he's certainly been leapfrogged in consideration, especially given that Chris Wingert can feature on the right without issue.
Of course, our starters are likely to play most minutes available to them — Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran are stalwarts and quite effective — but it's quite nice having two viable options on the bench, both of which can bring quick attacking play into the match.
Midfielders: First and foremost, let us speak of Kyle Beckerman and his general excellence. He's excellent. Really quite excellent. There, done. Moving forward, we've got Yordany Alvarez as his direct replacement, and if he continues to perform in the short minutes afforded him as he already has, we're in for a real treat of a player.
In the spots just further forward, we've got Will Johnson and Ned Grabavoy taking up the two starting spots. Behind them, we've got a slew of players, some of who intermix in the Javi Spot, if you will. Our best option here that's not been mentioned is Jonny Steele, who provides offensive threat and defensive effort (despite what some may think). Behind him, Sebastian Velasquez — who did well when called upon but is not yet ready for the big time, especially in a spot where he's forced into putting forth more defensive effort than he is perhaps able to effectively do — and some players who have yet to see time with us: Enzo Martinez and Nico Muñiz. We've also seen Luis Gil in one of these spots, but I suspect this is more a stop-gap than anything.
There is, of course, the final spot in our somewhat diamondy formation, occupied most frequently (or effectively, if you'd rather) by Javier Morales, the magician in Claret and Cobalt. Luis Gil is the reliable backup, if lacking a bit in the maturity needed to control play — but for a teenager, this is to be expected.
Forwards: Is this the deepest spot on our roster? I'm not really sure, as it's not played out entirely as we might have hoped. We've got Saborio and Espindola up there battling for our all-time leading goalscorer spot, but behind them, we have three backups of varying ability. Our best option is Justin Braun, the Salt Lake City native and near-MLS-journeyman who will be hoping to notch some quality minutes leading into the playoffs. Behind him, we see Paulo Jr., newly returned from loan and hopefully rejuvenated, and Emiliano Bonfigli, who has shown some good moments but still has much to prove.
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Our depth, it would seem, is there. We've got players battling for time in every position, and there's not much more you can ask for in this league. The restrictions are obvious and oft-discussed, and if I'm to be honest, the reason we've struggled has hardly been our depth, to my mind. Why have we struggled? Well, that's a bigger question, isn't it? I'll address that in the coming days.