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MLS Features: Real Salt Lake getting it done with the kids

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Updated: 6/14/2013 12:14 pm

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The names on the roster may change, but the results never seem to.

Real Salt Lake has quickly become the quintessential Major League Soccer model for how to consistently build a competitive team without having a bevy of bona fide superstars on the squad.

The club won the 2009 MLS Cup title with a veteran core of players that included goalkeeper Nick Rimando, defender Jamison Olave, midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales, and the dynamic strike tandem of Robbie Findley and Fabian Espindola.

Since reaching the top of the mountain that season, RSL has made the playoffs each of the past three seasons, but hasn't claimed another title.

And so, the front office made a trade prior to the start of this season that was intended to shake up the team.

In a bit of a surprising move, Real Salt Lake sent Olave and Espindola to the New York Red Bulls in exchange for allocation money.

Many in the RSL camp wondered how the team could cope with losing arguably its best defender and its best attacker in one fell swoop, but if this season's results are any indication, things are working out just fine in Sandy, Utah.

Heading into 2013, several veterans remained on the squad, with Rimando still between the sticks and captain Beckerman holding down his defensive midfield spot. But in the absence of Olave and Espindola, RSL has been thriving with a myriad of young players such as Devon Sandoval, Olmes Garcia, Luis Gil and Joao Plata.

Each of these young players has excelled under the direction of head coach Jason Kreis, specifically Garcia, who has come into his own over the past few matches.

The 20-year-old Garcia came to RSL as a relative unknown when he was acquired by the club from Colombian side Deportes Quindio on Feb. 21. But after signing a five-year deal, he has become a key piece in the club's long-term plans.

Garcia had his best game of the season in a convincing 3-1 home triumph over Western Conference rival Los Angeles Galaxy on June 8, when he came off the bench in the 61st minute and scored twice to secure three points for his team.

The result moved RSL up to second place in the West with 27 points, and the club hopes Garcia's breakout performance, which garnered him an MLS Player of the Week award, was just the first of many in a Claret-and-Cobalt kit.

Garcia was all over the field last Saturday, pressing high up the pitch and forcing Los Angles defender into mistakes, leading to his two goals.

"He was fantastic," Kreis said of Garcia's work ethic. "It's so critical to the way that we want to play, even if they don't win the ball. As long as they are up there pressing defenders, forcing them to knock it over the end line or over the sideline, it gains us a lot of space on the attack."

Sandoval, who is just 21, was selected by RSL in the second round (29th overall) in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft and has been impressive in his rookie season. He recorded his first assist of the season in last week's win over Los Angeles.

And while Sandoval has just one goal, he has looked comfortable on the ball in attack for RSL and appears ready to grab hold of a starting spot soon.

Gil, meanwhile, was acquired by RSL in a trade with Sporting Kansas City back in 2010 and has continued to grow into a playmaker, despite being just 19 years of age. The U.S. Under-20 international has started 13 games for RSL this season and has two goals to go along with one assist.

Gil orchestrates the attack from the top of the midfield diamond very well and figures to be an attacking force for the club for several years to come.

Real Salt Lake is 6-1-1 across all competitions since falling to the Galaxy on April 27, including a four-game unbeaten run. It is just one point behind FC Dallas for the top spot in the West and next hosts the Seattle Sounders in MLS play on June 22.

Despite a few bumps in the road early in the season, RSL appears to be well on its way to another playoff appearance, and has a shot at a lot more than just reaching the postseason if it continues the good run of form.

For RSL, it's clear the kids are all right.

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