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- Erik Daenitz
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FÚTBOL?
After several disappointing seasons, now might just be the moment to discover Real Salt Lake.
By Stephen Dark
At the final whistle on May 18, in the heart of downtown Sandy, the relief was palpable, if tinged with caution.
Utah's 11-year-old Major League Soccer team, Real Salt Lake ended a four-game losing streak under new coach Mike Petke with a 2-1 win over the New York City FC.
For the Real enthusiast, there's irony to be found in Petke's team defeating the club that fired Jason Kreis. Kreis, after all, was the Real coach who built a culture and vision that the team itself is the star—not individual players. Kreis took them to win their only MLS cup in 2009.
Petke, who replaced Jeff Cassar after Real's poor start to 2017, is cut from similar cloth as Kreis. They both wear their hearts upon their sleeves, they both say what they mean, and they're both snappy dressers (although Petke's passion for sweaters and cardigans might take some getting used to).
Real is a team in transition. Whether the NYC FC win is but a blip in a struggle to find form or an early sign that Petke has some ideas on where to drive the Claret-and-Cobalt, it's too early to say. But with some of Real's more fair-weather season ticket holders having leftover frustration with Cassar's coaching, now is the time for you soccer novices to venture out to Sandy and sing the lyrics of "Believe."
To get you started on that journey to the RioT, here are a few answers to questions a soccer novice might have.
Wasn't this a Dave Checketts' cast-off?
While the one-time general manager of the Jazz did, indeed, start Real—back in those days, the games were at Rice Eccles stadium—his vision for a home base (let's not get into the weeds on that fight) and a team Utah could be proud of saw his star-player-turned-coaching-prodigy Kreis build a team in his own image: hard-fighting, dedicated scrappers. Most of what was called "the core" are still around—the dreadlocked midfielder Kyle Beckerman, whose peace-and-granola appearance belies his unflinching tough-man heart, and the gravity-defying goalkeeper Nick Rimando, to name but two.
How do you pronounce the name?
Re-ál. Checkett borrowed the Spanish word for royal, as in Real Madrid. That took awhile for fans to get used to. That said, this is one sport where you're just as likely to hear Spanish accents from all over South America in the surrounding seats as you are white bread American-English.
Isn't there a missionary connection somewhere?
RSL has a strong Mormon fan base made up of young men and women who got hooked on the sport when they were proselytising abroad for the LDS Church.
Why is the stadium called the RioT?
It's a fan invention. The stadium is called the Rio Tinto stadium, but who wants to use a corporate sponsor's title? So it's Rio + T from Tinto.
I heard parking is a challenge.
When you drop a soccer stadium in the middle of downtown Sandy, you're going to have some congestion. Trax is one good bet—there are three Trax stops within a 15-minute walk of the stadium, and UTA keeps you up to date on Twitter. My favorite place to park is Crown Burger on State Street, half a block down from the 9400 South intersection. Buy one of their excellent burgers and put your receipt in the windshield, and you're good to go. Otherwise it's a case of searching the multiple $10 lot offerings or getting there early for the free spaces at the bottom of 9400 South. For you Salt Lakers who want to drink on the way to the game and back, several bars downtown run shuttles—a damn good idea.
Are tailgaters welcome?
On a southside lot off 9000 South, hardcore fans—such as LaBarra (the folks with the big drums and fake smoke) and Salt City United— grill, kick balls around and suck on suds. There are plenty of kids and there's always a welcoming, friendly atmosphere. Other clubs you're likely to run into include the Rogue Cavaliers Brigade, Section 26 and the Loyalists.
I've seen folks standing at U.K. Games. Are you on your feet for 90 minutes?
Only Section 35 permits standing, although that can create a headache for nearby stands. Around the rest of the stadium, you can sit with beer purchased inside the RioT, or Diet Coke, and chomp on a burrito from the chile verde stand on the north side of the stadium, or the crazy-popular churros.
What shouldn't I bring?
Real has a clear bag policy, meaning you can bring only plastic or PVC bags that the folks manning the stadium entrances can see through. Don't bring horns, vuvuzelas (look 'em up), umbrellas, firearms or camera lenses longer than 2 inches.
What's it mean to be a RSL fan?
Check out the lyrics of the song "Believe," and you're halfway there to understanding. Rancid drummer and Orem resident Branden Steineckert penned "the battle hymn," and for the losing-weary fan to hear the lyrics belted out by a sold-out home stadium is all but guaranteed to leave you misty-eyed. RSL's marketing director Trey Fitzgerald recalls the 2013 championship final against homeside Kansas City in painfully icy conditions. The game ended in a penalty shootout, and though Real lost, what always comes back to Fitzgerald is "the sliver of fans singing 'Believe' during the shootout," he says. "It still sends shivers down my spine."