Real Salt Lake has announced the official signings of goalkeeper Josh Saunders and midfielder Khari Stephenson. These two veteran players will undoubtedly bolster a squad that is replete of young up-and-coming players.
In the case of the 31 year-old Saunders, there is no doubt that he’s RSL’s best ever backup goalkeeper (unless you count the short time in the offseason when Rimando was a backup to Garlick). It is absolutely astonishing that the Puerto Rican international (yes, look it up – I had to) was available for reserve keeper duty. There are several teams around the league that seem they could use his services as a starter. For a guy who helped the LA Galaxy to consecutive MLS Cups, I’m not sure why they didn’t call upon him. Until this announcement was made official I was afraid that another team would swoop in and woo him away as a starter.
But there loss is RSL’s gain. And I think it opens up some possibilities for RSL. First, I think it creates much more competition for Rimando and will help keep him on his tippy toes. Second, I think he could be used for certain matches during the season to give Rimando a rest. Third, we’ve seen Rimando have to play with nagging injuries – shoulder, finger, ankle, etc. over the last couple of years. Now he can possibly afford the time to get over those injuries, with Saunders filling in for him. Fourth, if Rimando is away for National Team duty during Gold Cup action, they’ll have a quality backup. Finally, one of the huge benefits of this is going to come in Open Cup (and other competitions in future years) when RSL will have the potential of fielding a starter-level goalkeeper.
As far as Stephenson, I was a bit skeptical at first – partly because I thought he was older than 32, and partly because of how he was used in San Jose. However, I think he may fill an important role for RSL. First, he can fill in at the top of the diamond with Morales out with injury and Luis Gil potentially away for national team action. He is quite capable in the role, if not a bit more methodical than those two. Stephenson has decent technical skills and can navigate in traffic. He has good vision, and a wicked shot from distance. The Jamaican is a bit like Andy “Bomma” Williams, although not quite the maestro with the ball that his compatriot showed in an RSL kit. My concerns, if any, with Stephenson would be willingness and ability to cover defensively, and can he prove to be a playmaker in the RSL system.
On the other hand, Stephenson is likely to have the Johnny Steele role for RSL this year. My guess is he’ll be the veteran starter in the midfield when there are absences, and he’ll often be the late game reserve when RSL either needs someone to help close out a game or needs something different to try to level the game. His experience will come in handy especially when he might have a couple of young midfielders on the pitch alongside him.
A question for both is salary. In Saunders case he made just under $80K, from a contract he signed prior to becoming a starter. He reportedly left LA Galaxy over a money dispute (although they also brought in another first string guy). In Stephenson’s case, he made around $200K. He undoubtedly will take a significant salary cut coming to RSL, but how much is unknown.
What are your thoughts? Do you expect either of these players to have an impact?