It’s time for Real Salt Lake to have a winning season. The winningest season? Yeah! That. But maybe that bar’s a bit high.
I don’t want to scrape into the playoffs and we better not miss them entirely. The Rocky Mountain Cup must remain in Utah. I want to contend for the Supporters’ Shield. The US Open Cup. I’ll support this team during highs and lows. I’m a rather positive person. But it’s also our responsibility as supporters to hold the team accountable. They don’t get a pass. They don’t get to slide. I’m feeling optimistic coming into this season, but my patience is tense like a high e string worn from play but tasked to make it through one last gig.
We can hold RSL to Craig Waibel’s own words.
“At the end of the day we all have to remember this is entertainment. And entertainment at its best form invites opinions and comparisons.” —Jan. 31, 2017
There’s nothing wrong with comparing to the past and wanting our glory back. Wanting hardware. RSL might need to approach it in a different way going forward, but we’re the smallest market. We should carry a massive chip on our shoulders. We have something to prove and our team needs to step up. Our coach needs to fulfill. You’re required to win in professional sports. That’s a coach’s job.
I’ve heard some criticism that I might be a bit too optimistic coming into this season. Maybe, but I think Waibel has given Cassar the right pieces. It’s not a one-man show; we have a whole band.
But it’s Cassar’s responsibility to develop the team’s identity. “The team is the star” was Kreis’s identity for the team. I have no idea what RSL’s identity is right now. We’ve seen squabbling on the field. Players pouting. A coach blaming players. Players blaming the coach. Supporters in a fury.
I posted this Thierry Henry quote a few months back that describes what we used to be perfectly. He called us the “best team in the league in terms of playing and passing the ball” and he attributed this to RSL’s “identity.” We all knew what we would see in an RSL match. It didn’t always work, but it was beautiful and entertaining.
That’s what we must strive for; it’s what we’re missing. If we can develop an identity, a team culture that players and supporters and the front office can all get behind, we’ll have something to be proud of. Are we going to win MLS Cup every season? No. But soccer is entertainment and I want to be entertained, dammit, not aggravated.
And let’s be clear, I can be entertained by a loss if my team shows well and loses fairly. I’m not demanding that we have an unbeaten season and win a treble. But I want to know that every time I watch a match I’m going to see RSL’s identity. I want to know that the identity extends outside the team and into the stands, the neighborhoods, onto television screens. I’ve always said that my favorite scoreline is 3-2. It means the match was close and we got to see five goals. I’ve been jubilant on the winning side of that scoreline. I’ve been devastated on the other side as well. Either way, I was exhilarated.
The strongest emotion that I want to experience is satisfaction in my team, regardless of score, win, draw, loss. To know that they put in a good shift that exemplified our identity. If a team only inspires annoyance or rage or, worst of all, apathy, they’ve lost.
Identity is what we’re missing. I have no idea what it’s going to be as we move into the future of the club, but it has to be something. What is RSL? What is the RSL family? What does it mean to support this club? What makes us proud of RSL?
Cassar gets another chance to show he can develop that identity. Many believe he’s had his chances, but he gets one more. If he strikes the wrong chord, though, things are going to snap. He must perform. I don’t know what kind of specific pressure he’s under from owner Dell Loy Hansen. I do know that Mike Petke, coach of Real Monarchs, won a Supporters’ Shield with RBNY in 2013.
Update: RSL Communications reached out and wanted to clarify that RSL’s possession/diamond style of play wasn’t quite solidified until Kreis’s fourth year as coach. Here we are at Cassar’s fourth year. Let’s see what happens!