Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Name Realization

After the dust cleared from the Boom Scare another announcement came crawling through the grapevine. There really was a man who was willing to fork out $1 million to bring an MLS team to Salt Lake in 2005. Dave Checketts, who had already made a name for himself locally through his work with the Utah Jazz back in the early days of pro basketball in Salt Lake, now wanted to add another pro sports franchise to his hometown.

A press conference was scheduled for July 14th at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake. The meeting was said to closed to the public. So, for some reason I didn't go. Looking back I know I could have gotten in. Anyways, that was an historic meeting. It was there that the news was made official. League Commissioner Don Garber was there along with Checketts to share in the announcement. No other details were made public at that time except for that the team would play at Rice-Eccles for it's first few seasons. We had no team name, no colors, no players to rally around. When addressing the subject of the name and identity of the team Checketts said that there was not one set, but with a glint in his eye mentioned that he had "regal" aspirations for the team. I didn't think much of the comment until the post meeting teleconference call. Checketts was addressed with the question of how much he knew of the sport. He mentioned that he had been to Europe and seen the operations of a several teams which he named. Then he got to Real Madrid and said with a pause that he was "very...very impressed with the operation there." It was then that I knew where Checketts was taking the identity of Salt Lake's soccer team.

Now I won't be so arrogant as to say that I knew at that very moment he was going to use the Real name, but I knew that he was going to use Real Madrid as a model. When a list of prospective names came out the pit in my stomach grew. In the weeks between the expansion announcement and the name announcement I grew more apprehensive. With each news story the name Real kept appearing. My concern grew so much that I wrote to the editors of both Salt Lake papers hoping to get my voice heard. It was imperative that Salt Lake have their own identity and not borrow that of an established team with over a century of tradition. Alas, neither paper published my plea for reason.

Then the day came for the name and colors to be revealed.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Boom Scare

It was a 'Twilight Zone' moment for a soccer fan. All of your wildest dreams and yet most feared nightmares had suddenly come crashing together in on ironic event. A local tv station issued a story that a professional soccer franchise was coming to Utah! The name of the team? The Boom. No, that's not a typo. The Boom. Like the sound of your heart as it hits the floor from hearing such absurd news.

Word of the news story hit the Blitzz discussion board just as I was preparing to drive back to Illinois for a family gathering. The best way I can describe my reaction is ecstatic embarrassment. Ecstatic by the prospect of watching top-flight American soccer in person, but embarrassed by the name choice. As the mile markers along I-70 passed in abundance all I could say was, "The Boom? Where did they come up with the Boom?" Of course, at that time no one knew who "they" were. Who was responsible for getting MLS to even look at Utah? Through further investigation I began to see that no other news agencies had published any such news about MLS in Utah. And by the time we returned home to Logan it was discovered that the local tv people had made a mistake. The explanation I recall is that a couple rumors hit the sports desk of the station and the people there came to their own conclusion.

We know now that the better part of the rumors had substance. MLS was indeed talking to an investor who wanted to bring a team to the area. Thank goodness for Mr. Checketts. Upon announcing the team he did not reveal the name or colors. But he did promise that the name would not have any double 'z's or that it would be The Boom. Whew. That was a relief. Having Boom as a name would have been more scary for the home fans than for the opposing.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

A Little Background: the Utah Blitzz

This whole "MLS in Utah" dream started back in the early summer of 2004. At that time the best soccer around was being played by the Utah Blitzz of the US third division, known as the Premiere Select League (PSL). Due to my soccer junkie nature I was quite eager to make the 90 minute drive from Logan to Salt Lake to watch the Blitzz. I loved the intimate feel that came from watching lower division soccer with a couple thousand of your closest friends at most. Now, if you're familiar with Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah campus you'll realize that the set up is anything but intimate for a crowd of only a few thousand. My feelings are more towards the fact that the players were more than accessible. They were regular working class guys.

Not that soccer players in this country have ever really felt all that separated from average society as other professional athletes, but with a third division team it felt as though you were watch a buddy or neighbor play in the Saturday afternoon sun. Local boys like Jorge Estrada and Chad Sackett had regular day jobs as well as being soccer players. My personal favorite to watch was midfielder Matt Evans. He was California boy who was so smooth on the ball and very unpredictable in his movements. When ever there was a freekick with in 35-yards of the goal Evans would be there. He had an uncanny knack finding the holes in the defense during spot kicks.

At Blitzz games you could find a small group of hard core fans that would gather a few rows behind the visiting team's bench to sing and chant in support of the home side and raz the visitors. The group called themselves the R.A.F., standing for Radical Attitude Fans, and they never faltered in trying to spark the atmosphere in the stands. My first few games I observed from a distance, gathering up the courage to take the plunge and join the boisterous group. Having personal experience cheering with Sam's Army and other supporters groups over the years I felt that my place was with the R.A.F. I learned that they congregated on a discussion board, so rather than break the ice face to face like a normal person I integrated myself into their discussions about the team. In a short time I felt apart of the group and valued their camaraderie. The members of the R.A.F. are now the core members of the supporters groups for Real Salt Lake.

The Blitzz defied a lot of "expert analysis" and took the league title that year. Just as the playoffs were unfolding news started appearing about a guy named Dave Checketts who wanted to bring a Major League Soccer team to Salt Lake. Never did I think that anyone would take this area seriously when thinking about professional soccer. But, here we were in August with our Blitzz taking the PSL title and an official announcement that Salt Lake would indeed be the 12th team in MLS. The expansion meant the end of our beloved Blitzz, but it also opened another world of opportunity for not only soccer fans in Utah but sports fans in general.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Real Salt Lake

I am a fan. For most of my life I have followed the world game of football, and now through an outgrageous chain of events I am going to have a Major League Soccer team within driving distance. This will be an outlet of my experience as a loyal fan supporting Real Salt Lake in it's Inaugural Season. The season starts in less than 90 days from now. There is a lot to share about the journey thus far.