Happy Thanksgiving, RSL Soapbox readers. It’s been a long year, so thanks for sticking it out with us.
Here are some things members new and old of the RSL Soapbox staff are thankful for this year.
2017 was a crazy, crazy season for Real Salt Lake, and part of me is just thankful we made it through alive. Sure, we didn’t make the playoffs, but we were close. We didn’t progress in the US Open Cup, but we learned a lot.
But that does feel like a bit of a cop-out, doesn’t it?
I guess, for me, I’m thankful that Mike Petke has joined the club. That’s a big turnaround for me, in some ways. A year ago, I wasn’t keen on him joining. I didn’t really see the hype. I thought he might just be a tad overrated as a coach. But in the last six months, we got to know a coach that’s not just an interesting person on the sidelines, but he’s been an excellent person away from them, too.
Petke’s press conferences are a treat, but that’s not all he is. He’s an honest, straightforward coach, and he is doubly so with his emotions — and that’s something really different here. Under Jason Kreis and Jeff Cassar, our coaches’ emotional perspectives were often kept hidden a bit. Sure, we knew when they were upset sometimes, but they didn’t lay everything out on the table. That’s nothing against either of them, but Petke’s been a fascinating person that way, and I’m grateful for his honesty.
Looking back on the 2017 season, it was a lot. We had some ups, a lot of downs, and a whirlwind of things happen from day one of preseason to the last day of regular season. Now we can look at this season two ways. We can see it as a waste, due to our failure to make playoffs, or we can look at it as invaluable experience.
We were able to give a core group of players, under the age of 25, real game day experiences. Most other teams in the league, their youth sat on the bench. As I reflect on the 2017 season, I am by far most thankful for the trust our coaches had in our youth to give them a chance to prove themselves in games.
We were starting players under the age of 25 in every single game, some games more than half the starting 11 was under the age of 25. That experience is invaluable for these players. Players like Justen Glad and Albert Rusnak were regularly playing 90 minutes of competitive soccer week in and week out. You can’t put a price tag on the value of that experience. These players are who are going to win us championships in years to come. So it is for our youth talent and our incredible coaching staff that I am thankful for this offseason.
As I look back on 2017, I see it as “The year I got my nephews invested in the sport.” I could not be more thankful to have RSL for that reason. I love my nephews, but live so far away from them that it is truly wonderful to have all three of them together. When I think about the games that I had them with me, I smile. Because each one brings a memory that expands beyond the result. There was the match I got them their first jerseys. The match that my oldest nephew started noticing the score. The match that my oldest nephew told me who his favorite player was. The match that his brother told me what his favorite number was, and which number he wanted on the back of his jersey. There was the match that featured bad weather, and we had to leave early to make sure my nephew didn’t get sick. The match where we all got to play on the field, and the match where one of my nephew’s got to step out onto the field with the Dream Team.
I am thankful to have soccer in my life to act as the nucleus of my relationship with my nephews. They love soccer and RSL because I love soccer and RSL. It doesn’t matter how many miles away we are or how often we are able to all be together, RSL brings us together. I am thankful for that. I am so happy that my nephews have a team to look up to and strive to play for. Because at the end of the match, win or lose, I still have them. And that has made all the difference this year.
Let’s be honest.
Coming into the 2017 season, we all had the hope that this was the year. This was the year that we would win our 2nd MLS Cup. At least that was what I tried to convince myself as I walked into the gates of Rio Tinto Stadium on opening day against Toronto FC. And yet deep down, I knew there were underlying issues that hadn’t been addressed in the offseason. Deep down I knew that this was going to be a difficult year to be an RSL fan. I had hope, but I didn’t BELIEVE.
The first part of the season confirmed this truth to me. Poor results, staff changes and injuries decimated our team and our hopes along with it. Before long, the Claret and Cobalt were at the bottom of the league standings, with no indication that anything was going to change. My hope of an MLS Cup, and even the playoffs, was practically gone.
But then, something did begin to change. Mike Freakin’ Petke went on a tirade on his player’s behalf, and that became the spark that lit the fire under our team for the rest of the year. That fire, well-built and stoked by the disappointments of the early part of the season, pushed our team to new heights. We began playing the system Coach Petke wanted us to play, and we started to see results. Results led to greater confidence for the players and the flame burned brighter. I started to have hope again, I started to BELIEVE. That classic press conference is something I will forever be thankful for, and something I suspect RSL fans will remember for many years to come.
Coming into the last 3 games of the season, I fully believed that RSL would qualify for the playoffs. We all know that didn’t come to fruition, but the fact that I believed is what I am thankful for. The team had the fire and desire to show all of us fans that once again, we could BELIEVE in them.
The stage has been set. I have full faith that 2018 will be a great year for RSL, and it is because we endured so much this year that 2017 will become a year that we all will remember and be thankful for, and I am thankful for that.
For Mike Petke, Albert Rusnak, Joao Plata’s renewed passion, and the steady excellence of Kyle, Nick, Luke, Tony, and the rest of the team.
For Mark Briggs, Chandler Hoffman, Sebastian Velasquez, Connor Sparrow, and the amazing season the Monarchs had in winning the regular season championship and making the playoffs for the first time.
For Mark Davis, Sara Cowley, Annie Hawkins, Natalie Norris, Becca Ritchie, Colette Smith, and everyone who dedicated themselves to RSL Women this year, and every year.
For our incredible owner, Dell Loy Hansen, who is building both the present and future of soccer in Utah by giving us the incredible academy facility, and more recently putting a top-tier women’s professional soccer team in our city.
For all of the players from FC Kansas City who are on their way here, that we get to welcome as another part of what makes being a soccer fan here so special.
For Craig Waibel, Andy Williams, Freddy Juarez, Martin Vasquez, and everyone else on the soccer side that finds, trains, coaches, and helps make this team what we love.
For Trey Fitz-Gerald, Brian Dunseth, Matt Gaschk, Tyler Gibbons, and everyone involved in making sure we can follow and interact with our favorite club.
For my fellow supporters, both in Section 35 and all over the RioT and the state of Utah, and the passion and energy you all bring every time we stand and sing for our teams.
For Matt and everyone here at RSL Soapbox, who put in a fantastic year of coverage, and who are only going to grow and get better next year and in the years to come.
I’m thankful for the whole RSL Family, whether I listed you above or not. We are what makes this club so special, why I watch every match and always will. The reason that Real Salt Lake is first in my heart among all sports teams.
I’ll keep it short and sweet. I’m thankful for every player in this organization. Especially those who work hard and fight for their spots even if they don’t break the 18. Looking at you Justin Schmidt.
I’m thankful for everyone here at the Soapbox, my fellow writers, the readers, but especially Matt who does so much work. The same goes for the rest of the RSL Family, especially the folks who have given me a ticket from time to time even while knowing my college budget means I won’t be able to pay them back. - You know who you are.
I’m thankful for all the folks behind the scenes. It’s amazing the amount of people it takes to keep this organization running and i’m excited for some of the behind the scenes groups we have planned for 2018.
I’m thankful for my cat, who will stay on my lap no matter how loud I’m screaming at the TV.
Lastly, I’m thankful for DLH. I think it’s an understatement to say that our owner from the bottom of his heart truly cares. Even if it took him awhile to get the nuances about our club and originally picking it up as a business investment I know he cares about this club and about soccer in this state. The fact that we will soon have five teams up and running is absolutely astounding.