It’s been a wild ride for one of RSL’s most prized academy graduates, but now four years into his RSL career, his future still seems very uncertain.
Jordan Allen. It’s a name Real Salt Lake fans have known for years, which makes it slightly surprising that he is still only 22-years-old. The young attacker has shown plenty of promise during his time with the Claret & Cobalt, but it’s been a bumpy ride. Just two games into his rookie season, Allen suffered a major knee injury, causing him to miss the entire 2014 season. Upon his return in 2015, he took advantage of his brief opportunities, which eventually led to a starting role for the young attacker, which then led to a call up to the U-20 World Cup.
Allen then leveraged his World Cup performance into regular appearances with Real Salt Lake, quickly becoming known as a fringe starter for several different positions. The same trend continued last year, while injuries, both his own and to his teammates, again hampered his ability to lock down a position. Allen signed an extension with the club this offseason, but so far through 2017, injuries have been a major setback again. With RSL’s youth movement in full force, where does that leave Jordan Allen? Especially considering that two years ago, RSL fans would have felt sure Allen would be leading the movement.
The Swiss Army Knife
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Allen’s versatility saw him earn time all over the field, but after two seasons being deployed as a jack-of-all-trades, his preferred position still remains a mystery. His size, speed, and ball control translate well for any position in the attack, and those same traits saw him deployed as a fullback in a pinch on several occasions. Former RSL head coach Jeff Cassar previously stated he felt Jordan had all the tools necessary to take over for club legend Javier Morales, and Allen did see extended time in the middle during a few games when El Maestro was either injured or resting.
Cassar ultimately promised to deploy Allen on the wing, and then leave him there. On the wing, Allen had a strong preseason and was arguably one of the biggest standouts in the team’s build-up to the new year. Like many others, he came out a little flat in the opener against MLS Cup runner’s up, Toronto FC, then just 26 minutes into the team’s next match Allen went down injured again.
This time around, his injury opened the door for younger options. Both Brooks Lennon and Sebastian Saucedo took advantage of their opportunities and have seen regular minutes ever since. Shortly after the injury, the club moved on from Cassar and then brought in Jefferson Savarino as a young designated player, who seems to be the long-term option for the right side, while also being two years younger than Allen. Albert Rusnák has clearly secured the void left by Javi for himself and turns 23 in July. So where does that leave Jordan Allen?
Recency bias is also working against Allen right now. While Lennon and Saucedo have shown brightly, they really haven’t done any more than Allen was able to do when he was seeing regular playing time. With Lennon being on loan from Liverpool, maybe Allen will have a chance to earn time on either wing next season. Plata’s rumors persist, and Jordan Allen could slot in the opposite of Savarino for 2018 being in competition with Saucedo.
Fullback would be another interesting option moving forward. Allen has said he prefers an attacking role, but maybe playing as a wing-back in a 3-5-2 would be his best role. Danny Acosta has proved himself in his short stint with the first team, and he and Allen could be the long-term answers on the outside.
Playing in the middle, however, seems to be the best option for Allen. Not as a number 10 like years before, but as a box-to-box midfielder. A role currently held by Sunny and Luke Mulholland. Allen’s ability to defend while also being able to control and possess the ball, along with his athleticism, would be welcomed as MLS has slowly evolved into a midfield vs midfield war field.
Arguably the best thing about Allen is that his Homegrown status makes him not count against the team’s salary cap (while some General Allocation Money is used to offer him a competitive salary). Because of this, keeping Allen on board over the next few years would make him one of the most valuable players on the field, in the financial sense.
There does seem to be something up with Allen, however. Maybe it’s the injury woes, maybe it’s his lack of a set position compared to his teammates, or maybe it’s the time he’s spent in Salt Lake City while being a young adult, but in his two short appearances after his injury, one with the Monarchs and the other in the US Open Cup (both which ended in more injuries), he seems to have lost that spark RSL fans fell in love with during the 2015 season.
Maybe a change of scenery would help him in his development. While he just signed an extension with the club, a loan may be good for him to get his form back. Maybe to his hometown Rochester Rhinos in USL instead of simply getting him time with Real Monarchs. Certainly, any Division 2 side, whether it be NASL or USL, would love a chance to have a player both his age and caliber for a year. A few months to get his legs back under him could be just what he needs, and the missing piece in helping him take the step toward what all RSL fans want, a long-time club legend.