Real Salt Lake may finally have resolved its biggest depth issue, the lack of a third striker.
It is no secret that Jason Kreis is a good coach for forwards. He picked up Robbie Findley, Yura Movsisyan and Fabian Espindola all from relative obscurity and helped them all succeed beyond most expectations.
For Findley and Movsisyan, that meant big money signings in Europe. For Espindola, it culminated in an All-Star selection this season.
But lately Kreis has been a victim of his own success. After he and Garth Lagerwey scored a coup in picking up Alvaro Saborio, the Costa Rican has paired with Espindola to form one of the best forward tandems in the league. Last season, they became the first pair of 10+ goal scorers in Real Salt Lake history.
But that success has made it hard for a third striker to break the lineup. Thus far, a tired Espindola or Saborio has proven a better option than a rested Paulo Jr., Chris Agorsor, Cody Arnoux or Emiliano Bonfigli off the bench. This means Salt Lake has been missing the opportunity for a third striker off the bench that can take advantage of a tired opposing back line.
Enter Justin Braun.
The Skyline High School product is a powerful force that brings a little different skill-set from either Espindola or Saborio. His size (6’3” 195 lbs) is a problem for any Centerback in the league, and his ability to head the ball has already earned him a couple of hat tricks in Major League Soccer.
More impressive than that, he actually looks competent playing with Espindola and Saborio. There is certainly an adjustment period that will be necessary, but he isn’t making the mental errors that have characterized Paulo Jr.’s tenure with Salt Lake.
The only question is the cost of his contract. Fortunately, it isn’t as bad as you think. Braun makes a little less than Paulo and the already-released Cody Arnoux combined. Additionally, he doesn’t take up an international spot like Paulo.
If you keep Emiliano Bonfigli as a fourth striker, it can work. So keep an eye on Braun. If he continues to play well, Salt Lake may have finally addressed one of its last lingering depth issues with the current core of players. Doing so will come in handy during the playoffs and beyond.