Thursday, February 10, 2005

What is happening?

I interupt the chronological flow of events to share my reactions to some recent happenings with the team and soccer in general.


As I'm gathering my belongings to leave a night class the instructor walks up to me, pointing to my RSL scarf, and asks, "so you're a soccer fan?" I was dumb struck. We proceeded to discuss some of the latest happenings with the team. He wanted to know when games started so that he could take his family.

A few weeks before I'm talking with a coworker in my cubicle and another coworker, who I don't peg as an obsessive sports guy at all, sees my RSL shirt and stops to ask about the team. He also inquired about games, but mostly the shirt.

Finally, the event that prompted this posting. Earlier this week the United States was gearing up to play Trinidad and Tobago starting the final round of World Cup Qualifying. No big deal, right? The game was going to be carried on cable, and there may be a paragraph or two about it the following day. On the day of the game I open the paper only to see a front (sports) page article previewing the match. Not only a story but PICTURES. There was even a tie in to RSL making the game that much more intriguing to the Utah soccer fan.

Could it be happening? Could soccer actually be making it here in the little state of Utah?

The average Joe Shmoe can identify Real Salt Lake gear, and is interested in the success of the team. The local papers have been giving extremely ample coverage of the team and any news surrounding it. GM Steve Pastorino was listed in a who's hot on the Utah sports scene in one of the papers. The other Salt Lake paper even sent a writer to cover pre-season training down in Florida!

Now, I don't want to jinx the ride before it even starts, but I've lived in two other MLS markets and neither were as excited about Major League Soccer. Keeping my fingers crossed, I'm praying the excitement will only increase!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Name Unveiling: A banner is the ground

The day didn't come for almost two months. The announcement would be made in the Olympic Plaza on the south end of the grounds at Rice-Eccles Stadium. We arrived a few minutes before the doors would open and to my delight there was line, a BIG line to get into the meeting! Luckily I found a R.A.F. buddy who was able to squeeze me in behind him. The line moved ever so slowly mainly because the workers at the door were handing out tickets to be redeemed for a free hot dog and t-shirt. As we entered the plaza we were greeted by a couple of team officials. One of which turned out to be Blitzz goalie Chad Sackett! I congratulated him and the team on winning the national title. He was very grateful, and noticeably flattered. And who wouldn't be? Division 3 sports hardly hit the radar. It's always nice to be recognized when normally you go unnoticed. As a fan, it was nice to see that Sackett was able to jump on with RSL.

The wait to enter the event would not be the last long line we would stand in that day. The team did not expect the turn out it received. Their estimate was that maybe 1,000 people would show up, while roughly twice that many crowded into the plaza. My wife stepped into the hot dog line and would stay there for the next few hours. I ran around the place taking pictures, saying hello to all the supporters I knew from Blitzz games, and talking with the suites (team officials). The suites definitely wanted to keep the suspense piqued. Nobody would budge on telling us the name before the scheduled time. Everyone was being very careful and tight-lipped. Everyone, that is except for one person handing out season ticket flyers. My wife, who had progressed an entire foot closer to the hot dogs in an hour, called me over with a big grin and asked, "do you want me to ruin your fun now?"

"Sure", I replied. She turns the paper in her hands towards me and I see it. Everyone else in the plaza was handed a season ticket flyer that had no team identification printed on it. My wife was handed the wrong one. Before my eyes was the identify of the team of which I had pledged to support. The pit in my stomach exploded as I read the words, "ReAL Salt Lake."

Many thoughts rushed through my head including, "is this a joke?" Then something happened that I did not expect. Something inside of me liked the name. The more I looked down at the logo I liked what I saw. Amber was one of a handful of people who saw the misplaced flyers. As casually as I could I walked over to Glenn, the leader of The Loyalists, and rehearsed the same line that my wife said to me. He looked puzzled for a moment, and then with a sudden realization his eyes brightened. "Sure," he said. As I slipped the paper into his hands I whispered, "It's Real." We spread the news through out our little band of supporters. Most people's reactions were that of acceptance. The flyer mishap allowed for us to prepare for when the announcement would be made.

Checketts made the announcement followed by a huge banner of the team crest that unrolled from the stadium wall behind him. Confetti flew and the crowd cheered. In the midst of it all you could faintly hear a ruckus band of Loyalists chanting Re-al Salt Lake. Checketts explained that the team did in fact have some kind of relationship with Real Madrid. The details of that relationship were not given at that time. And to be honest, it has never been spoken of as of the point of this writing.

Before Checketts could sit down though, the beautiful banner decided it was to good to stay on the wall. It came down about the same time Checketts took his seat. I couldn't help to think if that was foreshadow of things to come. Any honest fan has doubts. But at this point in time I say 'Long Live Real!'

The Loyalists

Between the expansion announcement and the name unveiling a supporters group was formed. On July 23, seven soccer fans and my wife gathered around a table at a Salt Lake restaurant to lay the ground work of establishing a formal group of supporters. The meeting was even attended by James Edward the local soccer writer for the Deseret Morning News.

At a later meeting it was decided that the group would call themselves the Loyalists. Soon after the decision RSL general manager Steve Pastorino was quoted to say, "Here's to the Loyalists." And with that, the name stuck. Look for the Loyalists at every home game in the northeast corner, sections 30 and 32. They are a friendly group who have a passion for being heard and supporting Real. Feel free to join them if you share the same feelings. To find out more about the Loyalists visit their website.