Sandy, UT (Sports Network) - A season that began with so much promise for Real Salt Lake was altered dramatically on May 7 when star midfielder Javier Morales broke his leg in a match against Chivas USA.
The injury was the result of a clumsy challenge from the Goats Marcos Mondaini, and it proved to be an incident that RSL would struggle to overcome the rest of the campaign.
Head coach Jason Kreis saw his team win four of its first five games in the league last season prior to Morales going down, but was able to claim just one victory in its next eight matches.
Morales was able to return at the end of the year but was clearly a shell of his form self, something that will hopefully change with a full offseason of rest.
Kreis had to cope with injuries to key players throughout the season, and despite making a run to the Western Conference final before falling to the Los Angeles Galaxy, RSL never seemed to get totally on track.
When healthy, the club has one of the most talented starting lineups in MLS, featuring a stout defense led by veterans Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers, while creative players like Morales, Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola make the team dangerous in front of goal.
Talent will not be the problem but there is a question of depth, especially in the midfield, with the departures of veterans Jean Alexandre, Arturo Alvarez and Andy Williams.
Kreis will be forced to lean on younger, less established talent coming off the bench, which could become a problem if the injury bug hits again.
Already this season RSL could start the year without Saborio (knee), Borchers (quad) and possibly midfielder Will Johnson (sports hernia), placing more responsibility on younger players than Kreis would prefer.
Good health will play a major role but so will a return to dominant form at Rio Tinto Stadium, where the club went nearly two years without a defeat before losing three times in 17 contests at home last term.
2011 IN REVIEW: Despite its struggles with injury and spells of inconsistency RSL still managed to finish third in a competitive Western Conference and bounced Seattle Sounders FC from the playoffs. A 3-1 loss to the Galaxy in the conference final was the end of the line but not a bad result considering the adversity that the Claret-and-Cobalt went through.
ACQUISITIONS: Emiliano Bonfigli (F), Diogo de Almeida (D), Enzo Martinez (M), Jonny Steele (M), Terakazu Tanaka (D), Sebastian Velasquez (M).
LOSSES: Jean Alexandre (M), Arturo Alvarez (M), Nelson Gonzalez (M), Rauwshan McKenzie (D), Robbie Russell (D), Collen Warner (M), Andy Williams (M).
OUTLOOK: When at full strength RSL can compete with anyone in MLS, so it will be paramount for the team's top players to remain healthy. Depth will be a major question mark for Kreis as he will be forced to rely on less experienced players coming off the bench. A return to form from Morales will be especially important, and if that happens, there is no reason why this team will not be contending for the top spot in a strong Western Conference once again.