Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing
Salt Lake City is famous for its obnoxious religious uniformity and its fantastic snow. Not exactly the type of place you’d expect to find one of the best soccer teams in the world. But I can safely say, with a self-assured cocky grin on my face, that it is.
The Real Salt Lake became a MLS team back in 2004 and in just 5 short years they succeeded in winning the MLS Cup championship. I know it’s impressive but prepare yourself for further wowing. The Real, due to their MLS win, was invited to participate in the CONCACAF champions league, an international competition between the world’s best ranked teams. They miraculously beat out other contenders and made it to the finals for the champions league title, something an American team had never managed. A couple games versus Monterrey, a Mexican challenger, was all that stood between them and total supremacy. They tied the first of their two finals matches against Monterrey 2-2, which left them in excellent shape for claiming the title. Although they had already made history by progressing to the finals, we, along with other soccer fans in Utah and around the nation, were eager to see them crush the Mexicans and continue onto the club world cup. Their last finals game was at Rio Tinto stadium in Salt Lake City so Utahans had a rare opportunity to be a part of something spectacular.
Jason and I were itching to be in the stands cheering our team on at this second, and last, finals game but we didn’t know if that would be possible since Rio Tinto stadium only seats about 20,000 people, not nearly enough for an event of this magnitude. Luckily, Jason’s brother Jeremy is a Real season ticket holder and with that comes certain perks like getting a dozen of your friends seats to a hot game before the general public can buy them. Good thing because the public ended up not even having the chance to purchase tickets; they were sold out long before it came to that.
Jason and I are so glad we didn’t miss out on this most awesome of matches. I have been to quite a few Real games over the years, and I have enjoyed every single one of them, but this was something else. The stadium was electrified! Energy seemed to bound and echo off the stands of passionate supporters becoming an ever intensifying wave. The attendees were a mix of hardcore Real fans and first time game goers yet everyone seemed to understand the significance of this match and they were all intent on making their presence count. The stadium was a sea of red and no one even seemed aware of the chair behind them; there wasn’t a butt in a seat to be found.
When the Real players took the field the crowd erupted into deafening cheers and confetti rained down in all directions like the deluge of fluttering ash from a paper volcano. It was beautiful and it was only the beginning. Onlookers kept up their focus and fervor throughout the game. At one point I glanced around at the crowd and noticed that so many of the spectators were hopping or jumping about that the stands looked like a massive ant hill swarming with busy insects.
Despite their screaming fanatics, the Real couldn’t quite pull off a victory and they ended up losing 0 to 1. Monterrey scored right before the end of the first half and sadly the Real was never able to catch up, although they made an incredible number of attempts on goal. The Real played great even if they didn’t win and I think I echo the sentiments of most of their fans when I say that I am still very proud of what they accomplished. After all, they reminded the world that Utah is home to more than just crazy polygamists…it’s also home to hordes of red-faced screaming soccer loonies.