Real Salt Lake proving that smart roster construction is still king

Bobby Wood is one of the leaders of the 3rd place Real Salt Lake team.
Bobby Wood is one of the leaders of the 3rd place Real Salt Lake team. / Chris Gardner/GettyImages

Through the first 17 matches of the MLS season, Real Salt Lake sit 3rd in the Western Conference with 29 points (8-5-4). With their momentum carrying over from 2021, where RSL made the Western Conference Finals, the possibilities seem endless for the team. Despite the success, the team has no star or superstar. Contrary to much of the MLS, RSL is doing things differently.

They have no Carlos Vela, Chicharito, Xherdan Shaqiri, Gonzalo Higuain or others. In terms of salary, RSL has just one player making at least $1m in base salary in forward Damir Kreilach ($1.4m). For reference, there are 45 players in the MLS making at least $1.5m, and 26 of those players are making at least $2m.

In comparison to other teams, it's clear that RSL is doing things differently. Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders have 5 players making at least $1m. Atlanta United, Chicago Fire and the New England Revolution all have 4 players making at least $1m. Real Salt Lake plays a team game, and it reflects both in salaries and in the statistics.

No player on the team has more than three goals, and three individual players have three goals to their name. Forwards Bobby Wood and Sergio Cordova, as well as defender Justen Glad have all netted three goals for RSL. Wood, the former USMNT forward, has been a key player for the squad since signing last season. Cordova has been electric while on loan from FC Augsburg in the Bundesliga. Glad has been the team's threat on corner kicks and set pieces. In addition to those three, seven other RSL players have put one in the net. The team gets it done as a unit.

Maikel Chang is the team's leader in assists with four, and that number is third in the MLS. Two other players, midfielders Justin Meram and Pablo Ruiz, have three assists for the team. Much like their scoring, RSL's assist output is similar in that multiple people contribute. The midfield trio forms one of the most creative midfields in the MLS and will continue to keep RSL going strong.

Goalkeeper Zac MacMath wasn't expected to be RSL's starter, but has taken the opportunity and made the best of it. MacMath has an MLS-leading 62 saves, and his seven clean sheets rank second in MLS. He was named to the MLS Team of the Week of Week 4 for his seven-save performance. With MacMath in net, and strong defense of Glad, Andrew Brody, Marcelo Silva and Aaron Herrera or Tate Schmitt, RSL looks poised for another run into the MLS Playoffs.

What's even more interesting is that RSL sits third with their lone Designated Player, Jefferson Severino, appearing in just two matches for the team thus far. In addition, Kreilach has missed several games. RSL has gotten off to a great start with key players missing, a testament to their strength as a team. RSL is an amazing story, telling the league that you don't need a superstar to succeed.

Paired with their tremendous fanbase and a cohesive unit that plays extremely well together, Real Salt Lake is a true contender for the MLS Cup.