To say that the so-called "offseason" brought a few changes to Real Salt Lake would be a massive understatement.
While the Claret-and-Cobalt managed to hold tight to most of its long-time core, the Utah-based Major League Soccer side heads into today's 2013 opener against defending Supporter's Shield winner San Jose as clearly a different team than the one that walked off the field at the end of 2012.
Tonight's match kicks off at 8 p.m. from Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., and pits the top two Western Conference point earners from a season ago. It will be televised on CW30 as the second season of Real's local television deal gets under way.
"We're ready to get going," midfielder Ned Grabavoy said. "San Jose is a dangerous team, no questions. They are very good at whipping it across and scoring goals."
While San Jose boasts an explosive offensive attack that generated some pretty eye-popping numbers last season, Real will see the first real test of its revamped offensive attack.
Gone are long-term line-up stalwarts Fabian Espindola and Will Johnson, who were traded, along with Jamison Olave, just hours after the opening of the MLS trade window in January. Back in a Salt Lake uniform, however, is Robbie Findley, who helped RSL win the 2009 MLS Cup. Real was also able to sign Javier Morales and Luis Gil to new contracts over the offseason, keeping them in Claret-and-Cobalt.
"San Jose is a quality team, a good home team that never says die," Real coach Jason Kreis said. "They'll be a good test for us. Answers come in the season, not in the preseason.
"Have I decided on a starting lineup? No. I'll decide on Saturday."
Real will open the new season with a bit of a limp as regular starters Javier Morales (meniscus), Nat Borchers (quad) and Chris Wingert (metatarsal facture) are recovering from injuries.
With Morales out, it will likely come down to midfielder Luis Gil's play to determine just how well RSL fares during the early portion of the season.
"Luis (Gil) had a good preseason tournament (at the Desert Diamond Cup), and it showed in a lot of areas," Kreis said. "I am really pleased with where he's at. The success for Real Salt Lake doesn't rest on Luis Gil. We were happy with the goal production from our top two forwards last year, how many can we get from the other forwards is the question."
With plenty of new faces on Salt Lake's roster, Kreis and his technical staff have a team that is arguably deeper than it has been in the past, albeit a little younger and less experienced.
Several of Real's new faces, such as forward Joao Plata, have the potential to make an immediate impact early in the season.
While RSL's offense recorded the most goals in team history last season, led by Alvaro Saborio's club-record 17 haul, the team suffered a power outage up top at the end of last year as it was shut out in its final five games - including both legs of its playoff series with Seattle, which was part of the reason the club decided to shake things up after the year ended.
While Real retained the services of most of its always strong defensive unit, the injuries to Borchers and Wingert will test Salt Lake early. Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe will likely pair up at central defense to start the year in front of veteran goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
"We're all starting to learn the system, myself included," Watson-Siriboe said. "I think we'll be fine to start the season, and get better and better the more games we play. Preseasons are always tough. I'm very excited for the regular season."
* DYNAMO 2, DC UNITED 0: At Houston, Ricardo Clark scored and helped create a D.C. United own goal to lead the Houston Dynamo.
In a rematch of the 2012 MLS Eastern Conference championship, the Dynamo took a 1-0 lead on an own goal by United's James Riley in the 80th minute. Off Brad Davis' corner kick, Riley and Clark went up for the ball, with Riley heading it into the left net.
Clark extended Houston's lead to 2-0 in the 89th minute, taking a pass from Warren Creavalle outside the right 6-yard box and sending it high inside the far post.
* SPORTING KC 3, UNION 1: At Chester, Pa., Graham Zusi had a goal and an assist, leading Sporting Kansas City past the Philadelphia Union in the season opener for both clubs Saturday.
Oriol Rosell and Claudio Bieler also scored for Sporting Kansas City (1-0), the defending Eastern Conference champions.
Sporting Kansas City is now 12-4-2 in season-opening games, the best mark in the league.
* WHITECAPS 1, TORONTO FC 0: At Vancouver, B.C., Gershon Koffie's goal in the 60th minute lifted the Vancouver Whitecaps over Toronto FC in the teams' season opener.
Koffie helped the Whitecaps win their opener for the third year in a row.