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SALT LAKE CITY — Real Salt Lake head coach Pablo Mastroeni looked exhausted but excited as the team finished up a lengthy second session of preseason training Monday.
It was the first glimpse the media got of the revamped roster — minus a few international players still making their way to Utah — and the first chance to talk with Mastroeni and players since the 2022 season ended in October.
The head coach started his comments by talking about the "new year, new players and new energy" in the first few days of training. One might question exactly which "new players" he was referring to, as the team had just shipped off veteran defender Aaron Herrera and the only new additions present were MLS SuperDraft picks from the college ranks, but Mastroeni hinted at something that didn't come to fruition until the following day.
"We're still looking to possibly bring in another difference maker," Mastroeni said. "Or probably two more players."
One of those "difference makers" was announced Tuesday when RSL paid a club-record transfer fee — reportedly between $3-4 million — to sign a promising young winger from Colombia: 20-year-old Millonarios FC product Carlos Andres Gomez.
Highlight reel for new #RSL signing Carlos Andrés Gómez from Colombian club Millonarios, where he had a breakout year in 2022 with 12 goals, including three during the Copa Colombia competition, for which he earned the tourney's Golden Boot award en route to the 2022 championship pic.twitter.com/ZQwOrWyK6y— Caleb Turner (@calebturner23) January 10, 2023
RSL used the MLS U22 initiative to sign Gomez through 2027, with a player option for 2028. The U22 initiative allows teams to "sign up to three young players, age 22 and younger, to lucrative contracts at a reduced budget charge, decreasing the risk associated with acquiring or retaining players who are still approaching their prime."
"Our philosophy as a club is really to develop younger players, and hopefully in the next year to three years to be able to start moving players abroad," Mastroeni said. "And so that's something that ownership, the front office and technical staff spoke a lot about the offseason."
Gomez's addition brings the total of new young players joining RSL's preseason camp to eight, including five MLS SuperDraft selections and newly-signed homegrown players Delentz Pierre and Luis Rivera, who both came up through the RSL Academy.
Mastroeni said he was very impressed with the physical and athletic ability of the newcomers, as well as their mentality, in the first couple of days of training. He added that he thinks the competitive and physical nature of college soccer, where six of the eight youngsters come from, translates well to MLS play.
"They're all robust players; their physical attributes will translate very easily to this level," Mastroeni said. "And their mentality has been such that we don't miss a beat.
"Everyone has bad touches in the first couple of days. What's the reaction to those touches? Do they hang their heads? Do they complain? And I couldn't be more happy with what they've brought to our group to start at a level much higher than we were at last year at this time."
The team travels to California on Friday for more training ahead of its preseason opener against LAFC on Saturday, Jan. 21.