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What Real Salt Lake can learn from Feyenoord and Lincoln City

Why RSL can’t give up, and why we won’t either.

Lincoln City v Brighton & Hove Albion - The Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Red is my least favorite color. Yet I bleed it rose, crimson, and claret. Nothing seems to be going right for Real Salt Lake. 6-2 and 5-1 in Texas, while concurrently, the bitter taste of 3-0 defeats in Kansas City, and 4-0 in Foxboro still linger. At the same time there’s a melancholy hovering around supporter groups knowing that the end of an era is certainly coming. Javi left last year, Kyle Beckerman is 35, and Nick Rimando will be 38 later this month. The old guard is fading. Disconnection between the coaching staff and the players on the pitch, in addition to unknown bouts of locker room drama both seem to be logical assumptions further holding us back. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today, i’m here to talk about hope. It seems far away, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel, maybe not this season, but it’s there.
Stealing one from Ben Smith, let’s jump across the pond for a minute.

Lincoln City FC

In England there are 92 clubs across four different leagues. Outside of that there are dozens of non-league football organizations — one number puts it at 5,000 clubs. These non-league clubs and even a few of the league clubs are filled with the average Joe’s, a town’s star striker works a 9–5 job as a plumber, while the manager is passionate about the sport and works shifts at the local market. They play the sport on a voluntary basis, yet thousands of people from their neighborhood show up to the stadiums to support their neighbors. That’s how it works, it’s the epitome of “till I die.”

This year in the Fifth round of the FA Cup, for the first time in 103 years, Lincoln City, a non-league club beat out the premier league side, Burnley, the same team that tied with Chelsea in their last fixture. They did so in the 89th minute of the match and took the world by storm as a result. The difference in club wealth is hundreds of millions of dollars in salaries and facilities and 81 places on the football pyramid. Lincoln City FC are true giant-killers, and what they did is absolutely remarkable. Just watch below.

Lincoln City is a club of you, and of me. One of the stars of the team, Striker Matt Rhead is 32 years old, and left his factory job only 5 years ago. Midfielder Nathan Arnold spends his days off cutting hair and his contract with the club was only possible due to supporter crowdfunding campaign to pay his salary. The manager and his assistant are brothers and both former PE teachers. The teams chairman put 500,000 euros of his own money just 5 years ago to keep the club afloat.

In their next FA cup match, Lincoln City would be slaughtered by Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium 5-0. Nonetheless, they made history in a campaign of grit, loyalty, and love. Look for Lincoln City to continue the role of the underdog as after recent promotion they join League 2, the 4th tier of english football.

Lincoln City v Brighton & Hove Albion - The Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

What does this have to do with RSL?

The story of Lincoln City FC doesn’t mean that the likelihood of RSL pulling a sounders style comeback is very high. But it does mean, that anything is possible and emphasizes the importance of being here for our club through thick and thin. After all, it’s easy to support a team who is successful, not so much during a time of struggle. We rally around our team, we rally around our neighborhood through the good, and through the bad. It’s not gonna be pretty, its been ugly and it’s not going to start looking good overnight. But “we’re here for RSL.”

Read more about Lincoln City FC

Feyenoord Rotterdam

Before me, there was my mom. Before my mom, there was Feyenoord. (And that whole side of the family) Before this year, there was heartache. May 14th, 2017, I went nuts. I’m not fluent in dutch, but this year every Sunday morning I have woken up between 4 and 6 AM to watch the team of my blood on a variety of sketchy livestreams. I never pressed snooze. Okay, maybe once. Or twice. Probably more than that, but I still got every game, and I don’t regret it for the world. Feyenoord is not the most successful club in the Eredivisie, but Feyenoord is Family. They are “the three” in the dutch league, behind Ajax (I cringe just spelling out this name) and PSV in domestic titles.

Feyenoord like RSL had fallen on hard times, a team that was supposed to be the best in Holland, had multiple disappointing mid-table finishes, endured horrible fixtures like the 10-0 loss to PSV in 2010 and failed to qualify for Europe continually. The club fell on some hard times financially, and accumulated large amounts of debt. Things truly looked like they were going to completely spin out of control as they watched PSV and Ajax take titles. But Feyenoord continued doing what they do well, and what in the long run I think made the difference. They sold there youth and massively invested in the ones that they kept. Having already been responsible for exporting Robin Van Persie, promising academy products and young players were shipped off elsewhere. Many to the English Premier League like; Daryl Janmaat (Watford) Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool) Jordy Clasie (Southampton) Others like Stefan de Vrij became standouts at Lazio and Bruno Martins Indi at Porto.

Investing and selling youth doesn’t always assure success, but for Feyenoord it played a big role. On May 14th, Dirk Kuyt scored a hat trick and my club won the Eredivisie for the first time in 18 years. 14 members of that squad were products of their own academy. Three of those players recently broke out onto the dutch national scene and will hopefully rejuvenate the struggling national team. Granted, it is almost a guarantee that Rick Karsdorp, Tonny Vilhena, and Terence Kongolo will leave Feyenoord and depart for bigger European clubs in the next year or two, but that’s the beauty of the academy. Half of the excitement is watching the seeds on the sideline bloom.

Feyenoord v SC Heracles Almelo - Eredivisie Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

The bottom line here is simple. Invest in youth, don’t get too attached.

Justen Glad, Brooks Lennon, Danilo Acosta, Sebastian Saucedo, and Aaron Herrera have all been involved in the Real Salt Lake Academy. We’ve got to keep growing, and we will, that is precisely why the new academy in Herriman is so exciting. The MLS isn’t a retirement league anymore, RSL has to start bottom up and that is how we will succeed. This is going to be uncomfortable for us as it’s not what we’re used to. Utah fans tend to pick players for life, but on the international stage that is very rarely a recipe for success. Not every club can have a Francesco Totti, and it would be foolish to continually attempt to create a core group like that, Totti’s just sort of happen. And, even if not to the extent of Totti, sometimes your club legends find a way back to you in other meaningful ways if you let them go, just look at Jason Kreis, Feyenoord manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst, and of course, the very fitting, Dirk Kuyt.

Things to take away

  • Through thick and thin we’re here for RSL
  • Embrace being the underdog
  • The light at the end of the darkness is the youth
  • Ajax sucks