June 20, 2012; Sandy, UT, USA; Real Salt Lake players huddle prior to a match against the Los Angeles Galaxy at Rio Tinto Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE
So for those of you who have been fans of Real Salt Lake for a number of years, remember back to the fall of 2009. RSL had just lost back to back matches in Texas including a 3-0 drubbing by FC Dallas, and then the team took on Chivas de Guadalajara in what was labeled a friendly match. Of course that match would end up being anything but friendly after RSL took an early lead and the Mexican side decided that they were going to beat RSL up, if they couldn't beat them in soccer. Just before the first half ended a hard foul on Andy Williams left him crumpled on the pitch, when out of nowhere Jamison Olave came to his defense, and while Olave did nothing it caught the attention of the Chivas player who pushed him in the face and out came the red cards for both players.
In the end the match ended up a 1-1 draw, but to me that was the day that RSL became something more than just a collection of players, it was that day that I started to see guys on the pitch that fought for each other, no matter what position they played, no matter if they started or came off the bench. The only thing that mattered was being there for each other, on defense, on offense, it didn't matter the team played as 11 guys working off a collective heartbeat. That moment changed the team in my opinion, it was that moment that allowed RSL to find a way to win on the road in the playoffs, first at Columbus, then at Chicago, and then as the underdogs at MLS Cup in Seattle.
That feeling lasted for a couple years but more and more this season, the first year with a large (8 players out and in) change, it seems to be lacking. I know as I talk to friends they notice it as well, now don't get me wrong, I still think our guys like each other, I think they enjoy playing together but it seems as if something has changed. To me it is that we aren't playing with a chip on our shoulder, we have found success on and off the pitch and now we are much more respected as a team than we were then. We seem to have lost that us against the world mentality, and I think that has hurt us.
more after the jump:
So fast forward to last Friday, the guys go out and practice, eat some lunch, and then head back to their hotel to relax a bit and get ready for Saturday, but then one line of thunderstorms pushed through the Columbus area and all of a sudden no power at the hotel, as well as large portions of Columbus and central Ohio. So what do you do when the power goes out, you wait and hope it comes back on. You may struggle with no internet, your phone might go dead, you can't watch TV, but when it is in the 90's with high humidity and no AC, well then life starts to suck more and more each minute you have to suffer.
The minutes drag into hours, your dinner plans are going to a local mall and hoping there is something edible at the food court. Then the evening approaches so the rooms become dark and hot, even if you wanted to sleep you probably can't do so as the temp really never goes down below the mid 80's, nor does the humidity. So after a very restless night, you get up and now you need to try and find somewhere with power so you can get some breakfast. The hours pass and what would normally be a time for a nap, well it is now back into the 90's with lots of humidity and still no power, still no air conditioning. Then you find out that the power is out at the stadium, and that the match may be postponed, but then you find out just a couple hours before that the power is on at the stadium and the match will go on. It has been over 24 hours without power, no power means no hot water for showers, no AC, no food at the hotel, it isn't fun when all you have to do is survive, but imagine you have to try and prepare to play a soccer match without power, in a hotel, in a city that is mostly in the dark.
So when the team looked a bit flat against the Crew, it might have been frustrating, it was to me, you can read my live match thread to know how mad I got, but as the match ended and I thought about things a bit more. I remembered the power outage in Salt Lake City a few winters ago, I was without electricity for 4 days but most of the city was fine, so I was able to go to work, find food to eat, I was home, not stuck a thousand miles away in a hotel, and I remembered how bad it sucked being tired and unable to really rest. Then I thought about how it has often been in the worst of times that people come together in special ways, that is what happened in the fall of 2009, and while I wasn't in Columbus, and I don't know what happened at the hotel, or in the locker room, or on the way back to Salt Lake City, I just hope that by having to deal with a nasty bit of adversity, that our guys, our team, found a way to have each others backs.
I know that there are players hurt, guys playing out of position, new guys stepping in, and more things than a fan can probably ever really understand, but for me if there could be one take-a-way from what sounds like an awful weekend for the RSL players, it would be that maybe they have found that fight, that chip on their shoulder, that reality that it is "us vs. the world", and that no matter what they aren't ever alone, no matter what they have 18,000 people who are willing to come out and cheer them on, and while just like the players and staff who get frustrated when things go wrong. We are a family, and families never quit on each other, no matter how hard times get, no matter how dark the night might be, families have each other's back no matter what.
For me RSL has been more than just a team, more than just a hobby, heck more than just a passion, it has lead to me making hundreds of friends and people who are as close to me as any member of my family. I know that every time I talk to players, past or present, they all mention that something is different at RSL, something special. I hope that every fan gets that same set of goosebumps I get each and every time the team is announced, and I hope that the players understand how much they mean to so many people in this community, and I hope those things never change.
Win or lose, we are still Real Salt Lake and I wouldn't want to be anything else.
OFF MY SOAPBOX