There’s been a lot of chatter and gossip in the last 24 hours since word first broke of Real Salt Lake’s acquisition of Dema Kovalenko. Many are wondering if RSL is poised to shift to a 3-5-2 now that the team has so many midfielders, especially holding midfielders.
In previous conversations with GM Garth Lagerwey, I doubt very much that RSL has plans to become a 3-5-2 team. In all discusses I’ve had with the coaching staff throughout training camp, the theme has been creating competition at all spots.
Jason Kreis firmly believes that Nick Rimando had such a great season last year because he was being pushed by rookie Chris Seitz, and he wants to create that situation all over the field.
He’s got it at right back with rookie Tony Beltran pushing Chris Wingert. He’s got it at center back with Matias Mantilla, Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers vying for two spots. He’s got it up top with Yura Movsisyan, Robbie Findley and Fabian Espindola fighting for two starting spots ? and the team still in pursuit of a true target forward. None of that compares to the inevitable competition in the midfield. When healthy, RSL’s first choice starting four midfielders would seem to be Javier Morales, Dema Kovalenko, Kyle Beckerman and Matias Cordoba. So what does that mean for Nate Sturgis, one of the most promising young players in U.S. Soccer? It means he needs to improve his fitness even more if he hopes to earn playing time. And what about Andy Williams. Is he destined for a season as a Super Sub? And what about Carey Talley?
For most MLS teams, having an excess of quality midfielders is common place, but for RSL it’s a new phenomenon, so it somehow seems wrong. Perhaps RSL is taking a lesson from the Houston Dynamo. They had six starting 11 worthy midfielders last year in Ricardo Clark, Brad Davis, Dwayne DeRosario, Stuart Holden, Brian Mullan and Richard Mulrooney. It paid off as Houston remained extremely competitive despite injuries and suspensions throughout the year. When Davis went down for an extended period of time, they didn’t miss a beat with Holden. When DeRosario was out, Holden plugged in there as well, earning his first MLS start at attacking midfield in a 1-0 October win at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Opening day is still a month away, but fans want to know now who RSL’s starting 11 will be. If I had to venture a guess, I bet the coaching staff doesn’t even known. First of all, Kreis has no idea how Kovalenko will mesh with the team. Secondly, Cordoba is probably still several weeks away from being fit, and until then Kreis probably doesn’t know where best to us him. Lastly, Kyle Beckerman has been injured all preseason, and out of everyone he’s probably the only midfielder you can pencil into the starting 11 every game. Who works well with him may ultimately determine who starts.
Between the inevitable injuries, suspensions, Olympic absences, and day-to-day grind of the Rice-Eccles Stadium turf, the acquisition of Kovalenko seems to simply be a matter of improving depth.
Twenty-four hours later, do fans still think this was a good pick-up?