Real Salt Lake Re-Signs Four Key Cogs for 2012 Season and BeyondFebruary 9, 2012 - Major League Soccer (MLS) - Real Salt Lake
"This offseason was perhaps the most challenging in recent years when it came to keeping together the core and identity of Real Salt Lake," said RSL General Manager Garth Lagerwey. "While we could not help but lose some valuable contributors, in Fabian EspÃ-ndola and Ned Grabavoy we return two players that not only combined for more than 100 starts over the last three seasons, but provide qualities on the field and in the locker room that can't be measured. With the long-term additions of Yordany Alvarez and Paulo Jr., we lock down two starting-caliber players to provide cover at key positions, depth that will be sorely needed to compete at a high level in every competition we enter."
RSL accomplished one of its main offseason objectives by agreeing to a new four-year contract with EspÃ-ndola. The club retained the services of Espindola after his breakout 2011 season, during which the Argentine striker notched MLS career highs in goals (10), assists (3), games played (27), games started (25), shots (62) and shots on goal (31). The 26-year-old Espindola finished the season listed on MLS' top ten rankings in shots on goal (T-8th) and shot percentage (50.0%, T-4th), while his 10 tallies made him one of just 15 players across the league to reach double-digit goals and placed just one behind fellow strike-mate Ãlvaro SaborÃ-o for the team lead.
Since joining the Claret-and-Cobalt midway through the 2007 season, Espindola has knocked home 26 goals in regular season play, second only to Robbie Findley (29) on the club's career chart, and added 10 assists in 95 regular season appearances (77 starts).
"It feels great to be able to continue my career with Real Salt Lake. The negotiations were difficult at times, but I'm glad we could come to an agreement that worked out for both myself and the club," said Espindola. "It means a lot to me to return to RSL, to Utah. I know the guys well and we've got a great group here, one that can fight for every trophy that is in front of us, and that's very, very important to me."
The new contract for Grabavoy is a three-year deal that will keep the influential midfielder in Claret-and-Cobalt through the 2014 season. Since joining Real Salt Lake just prior to its 2009 campaign, the 28-year-old Grabavoy has started 47 of his 68 regular season appearances, scoring three goals and adding three assists. The versatile midfielder collected the second-most starts (21), appearances (25) and minutes played (1,899) of his eight MLS seasons for RSL in 2011, and also came off the bench during all three of the squad's MLS Cup Playoff appearances, adding a pivotal goal in the postseason opener against Seattle in the process.
The New Lenox, Ill., native has tallied eight goals and 17 assists in 162 regular season appearances (117 starts) on behalf of the LA Galaxy (2004-06), Columbus Crew (2006-07), San Jose Earthquakes (2008) and Real Salt Lake (2009-present) since being drafted in the second round (14th overall) by Los Angeles in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft.
"I couldn't be happier to have the opportunity to continue my career with Real Salt Lake, and I'm excited to find myself in a great situation for continued success," said Grabavoy. "I want to thank the RSL ownership and management and the coaching staff for not just showing a commitment to me, but for doing everything possible to display a complete and successful product every season. I believe we have the right pieces in place to do some special things, including bringing another championship to our deserving fans."
The new three-year contract for Alvarez comes after Real Salt Lake exercised a purchase option following the expiration of his loan agreement from Orlando City S.C. of the USL PRO League. The 26-year-old holding midfielder joined RSL at the signing deadline last Sept. 15 and started four of his five appearances down the stretch while captain Kyle Beckerman was unavailable due to national team call-ups and suspension.
Alvarez's move to Utah last fall followed on the heels of his standout season for Orlando City S.C., during which he helped the squad to the USL PRO League's regular season title and playoff championship and garnered the league's Most Valuable Player honor. The one-time Cuban international, who defected while in the U.S. during the 2008 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament, received his United States Green Card during the offseason and thus will not occupy an International Player slot on the RSL roster.
"I'm thankful to both Real Salt Lake and Orlando City for coming to an agreement that allows me to be a full member of the RSL squad, and I value the opportunity to work hard and prepare for the start of the season," said Alvarez. "Getting to play after arriving last fall not only gives me great comfort with the rest of the group for this year, and also the confidence that I can succeed at the MLS level. Knowing that there will be opportunities to perform at points this season just makes me want to work all that much harder to step in and do well for the club."
Real Salt Lake will also retain the services of Paulo Jr. for the next three seasons after purchasing his rights from USL PRO side Miami FC, from where RSL originally brought him over via a loan deal back in September of 2010. After bursting onto the scene during CONCACAF Champions League play shortly after his arrival in fall 2010, last season saw the diminutive Brazilian suffer from persistent hamstring and hip flexor injuries across the summer that limited him to a pair of goals and four assists in just 11 appearances (5 starts) in MLS play.
"I'm very happy to be back with Real Salt Lake and to get a fresh start to a new season," Paulo Jr. said. "I plan on continuing to work hard and stay healthy moving forward, and when I accomplish those goals I know I will be able to contribute great things to the club."
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