(by Brad Rock deseretnews.com 4-19-15)
The day was pure clover, the oncoming night mild and purple. But it wouldn’t have mattered to Real Salt Lake’s fans.
They stopped worrying about small stuff like the weather long ago.
The outcomes, yes, they worry.
They booed when Vancouver’s keeper David Outsted held up the game with a questionable — and short-lived — injury; booed louder when Sebastian Saucedo got red carded in the 76th minute. And they were positively indignant when Jamison Olave got carded out in the 89th.
OK, so it wasn’t a perfect day for RSL. A Darren Mattocks header in the 80th minute provided all the scoring as league-leading Vancouver won 1-0.
Still, it could have been worse for the home team. It could have been an indifferent audience.
That hasn’t happened in a long time.
Saturday marked RSL’s 19th consecutive sellout and 21st in the last 23 games at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Utah’s second-most famous pro team likes to think of obstacles of any kind as “growth opportunities.” Take, for instance, the March 29 game against Toronto. It has long been feared that Sunday is a taboo day for live sports in Utah. But due to Major League Soccer’s TV deal, the club agreed to three Sunday outings this year. The first was a smashing success. The crowd of 20,794 was the largest in stadium history.
“We’ve got two more in June, but we’re not as worried about that,” said team P.R. chief Trey Fitz-Gerald. “But a Sunday game? In March? It was hope and pray.”
Maybe someone upstairs was listening.
Two days after the 10th anniversary of Real’s first home match, the Claret and Cobalt played to a loud and enthusiastic fan base. It’s been a decade since Brian Dunseth headed the ball into the net for the first goal in club history. He yanked the corner flag from its spot and replanted it, like any self-respecting warlord.
“The perfect metaphor on whether this is the place, or we’re here to stay, something like that,” Fitz-Gerald said. “Having that day gave us a sense of permanence and reality.”
For Fitz-Gerald, who arrived in 2005, a few weeks before the season opener, it was a shot in the dark. He also was on staff to help start the Colorado Rapids in 1996 and the Las Vegas Outlaws of the Arena Football League in 2001.
“After that, every single time, I said never again,” Fitz-Gerald said.
Then he asked original RSL owner Dave Checketts where to sign.
So they started building, beginning with players at the end of their careers such as Jason Kreis, Andy Williams and Clint Mathis, then brought on stars such as Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio and Nick Rimando.
They were on their way.
The championship season was in 2009, followed by an appearance in the 2013 title game.
Salt Lake was a legitimate MLS town, no doubt about it. Now Rio Tinto not only sells out, but has the biggest video board in the league. RSL’s home record is a superb 76-15-25.
What Real saw when it began was a more diverse market than outsiders imagined. The plan was to attract Hispanics and Europeans who grew up in soccer cultures, returned LDS missionaries who served in futbol countries, and youth soccer players and parents. It did that.
What the team has since discovered is that its base is a rabid following of 18-34-year-olds, of both genders, that make up the most vocal segment. The team now sells 15,000 season tickets.
A decade after the first Salt Lake game, RSL now has fans that grew up barely knowing a Utah without Major League Soccer.
So when the storm struck this week, there really wasn’t much to worry about. People who wear wool soccer scarves in 98-degree weather aren’t scared by snow. Turned out, it was a fragrant spring day, not much different than April 16, 2005, when the first home game was staged.
“Back then we were always like, ‘Is anybody going to come?’ ” Fitz-Gerald said.
They did, 25,286 of them, to Rice-Eccles Stadium. Twenty-thousand, four-hundred fourteen showed up on Saturday.
Weather and attendance may never again be a big worry.
Good teams like Vancouver are a different story.