SANDY — After an offseason that lasted a scant 10 weeks, Real Salt Lake’s players and coaches reported for duty on Saturday afternoon as the franchise prepares to get its ninth season underway.
The Claret-and-Cobalt players and technical staff assembled at Rio Tinto Stadium for entrance physicals, team meetings and media interviews on Saturday in preparation for today’s departure to Casa Grande, Ariz., for the first of three preseason training trips.
RSL will spend eight days training at the Grande Sports World before returning to Utah on Jan. 28. After three days in the Beehive State, Real will depart for Irvine, Calif., for an eight-day training stint on the campus of UC Irvine from Jan. 31 to Feb. 8.
The third — and final –—leg of Real Salt Lake’s preseason schedule will see the Claret-and-Cobalt returning to Arizona, this time heading to Tucson to participate in the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup at the Kino Sports Complex. Real will face four matches in a 10-day span against the New York Red Bulls, Seattle Sounders and New England Revolution before returning to Utah on Feb. 24 ahead of its 2013 regular season opener against defending Supporter’s Shield winner San Jose on March 3.
Real returns to work this year with a large part of its core of the past few seasons still intact, but also faces the challenge of integrating several new pieces into its lineup, as well as different roles for several of its returning veterans.
Much of the offseason news around RSL centered on its departing players, the team made several huge moves over the last week, including finally locking down central midfielder Javier Morales to a new contract and then re-acquiring the rights to — and then signing — striker Robbie Findley.
“I had offers from other countries to go and play there, but I wanted to keep playing for RSL,” Morales said. “Utah is like a second home to me and the people in Salt Lake — the fans, my teammates and my coaches — have always made me feel very welcome. I just want to keep playing for them and doing good things for the club.”
Findley, who was a key component of Real’s run to the 2009 Major League Soccer Cup title, returns to the MLS after spending the past two seasons in Europe.
Findley is the third-leading scoring in team history with 29 goals, and is fifth in team history with 13 assists.
The signing will pair the speedy 27-year old striker with Alvaro Saborio, who has been the team’s leading scorer the past three seasons, giving the Claret-and Cobalt a formidable 1-2 punch up top.
“RSL has played a huge role in my career and I’m very excited to be back in Utah,” Findley said. “RSL is a team that is consistently at the top of the table and always has plenty of talent. Jason Kreis and the coaching staff are very dedicated and know what it takes to be successful. I’m very ready to get back into Rio Tinto Stadium and enjoy the phenomenal atmosphere that our supporters bring to every game.”
Other new faces on Salt Lake’s roster as training camp opens include defender/midfielder Lovel Palmer, who was selected during Stage 2 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft, and defender Aaron Maund, who RSL traded for in early December. Palmer saw action in 19 matches, with 15 starts, for the Portland Timbers last season. Maund spent last season with Toronto FC, starting in eight of the team’s final nine matches.
Also going to camp with Real will be newly drafted rookies John Stertzer (2013 MLS SuperDraft, 12th selection), a midfielder from the University of Maryland, and Devon Sandoval (29th pick), a forward from the University of New Mexico.
Real will open camp with four players missing due to national team duty as midfielder Kyle Beckerman and defender Tony Beltran earned call-ups to the U.S. Men’s National Team, while midfielder Luis Gil is with the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team, and Saborio was called up by Costa Rica.