Remember when the refrain among Real Salt Lake fans (and, indeed, a lot of MLS fans across the nation) was a loud shout: “Trophies, not friendlies” — that time, it seems, has passed.
Indeed, with Real Salt Lake playing in their first potential road-to-a-trophy on Tuesday, facing Wilmington Hammerheads in a fourth round US Open Cup match, the chatter has been turned almost exclusively to a friendly this summer.
What's more: Remember taking the moral high ground against teams like LA Galaxy, who moved their US Open Cup matches to accommodate pre-arranged friendlies? If we were to make the quarterfinals of the tournament, we’d be stuck doing the same thing. July 20? That’s a day after Real Salt Lake faces Inter Milan.
Don't get me wrong: I’m not necessarily opposed to this friendly — there are certainly a lot of upsides, and it raises our prominence in world soccer. And for all the crowing of 2011 through 2013, this isn’t the first international mid-season friendly we’ve hosted in recent years. In August 2014, we faced Club Tijuana in a rain-soaked friendly that saw (gulp) a broken leg for John Stertzer.
Indeed, it’s hardly the first mid-season friendly we’ve hosted at all — remember facing Sacramento Republic or BYU? Those weren’t competitive matches
Sure, facing Inter Milan is of a totally different magnitude and scope than those teams we’ve faced before. This is, all told, a much bigger deal than facing a regional opponent. This is the level of opponent we’re used to seeing teams in California and New York square off against.
But it shouldn't be without hand-wringing that we approach this match. Friendlies come with an inherent risk — someone could get injured, after all, and it’s a blow for that to come in a non-competitive match. We’ve seen that with John Stertzer (Xolos) and Jamison Olave (MLS All-Star match), and it could very well happen again.
Then again, any time you play a match or set out to train, those sorts of things can happen. If you’re going light on yourself in either of those, then you’re only offsetting injury possibilities. Does that make it a non-issue? Hardly. But unless you’re playing a team that, for some reason, has decided to go tackle-happy and has no concern for the well-being of your players, then concerns should be reasonably minimal.
Obviously enough, that doesn't solve everything with the friendly we’re facing next month. We’re still facing the possibility of offsetting a competitive match to play one that instead increases our visibility in world soccer.
Of course, there’s always another possibility. Perhaps we’ve agreed to sign some top-level defender from Inter Milan, and in exchange, we’re hosting a friendly. That would be something else, wouldn’t it?