As my son and I pulled into the stadium last night, my heart started to race a little bit. On the ride to Rio Tinto Stadium, he and I had talked a little bit about what having a team like Manchester United in Sandy at our stadium meant and could mean for the future. We parked and grabbed our gear out of the trunk of the car. I brought him a Section 35 scarf to wear — which he put on with an excitement I didn’t expect but loved. He turned and looked at the stadium as I pulled my Man United scarf out and tucked it under my belt. When he turned back around and saw it hanging there he was shocked!
“Dad, you can’t wear that...RSL is your team”, he said.
“I know bud, but so is ManU”, I replied.
“You’re not my dad tonight.”
It was a fun conversation to have while we walked to buy him a jersey, introducing him — for the first time, really — to my soccer story. Manchester United was the first team I loved watching and really felt like I supported. He didn’t get that at first, but seeing all the people in United shirts, kits, and apparel helped him realize how important the night would be. “One of the biggest teams in the world!” he would later tell my mom.
“And even though we lost it was huge to play the way we did.” That’s from my nine-year-old, unprompted.
I knew that last night was going to be special. Seeing a team I have supported from a distance for the past 20ish years was something I never thought would happen in my backyard. Seeing my hometown club go up 1-0 over one of the best (we can fight about that later, City and Arsenal fans) and most storied clubs in the world and more than that, make a game of it for 90 minutes with 3 different groups was a sight I never could have even dreamed of.
From the first minute that game didn’t feel like a friendly. It felt like the biggest game I’d ever seen in person and that the team had ever played in. You could see it in their eyes and in the way they moved. It was a continuation of the fire we saw lit at Los Angeles two weeks ago with gas poured on top. Mitch (our friend from Holland) said more than a dozen times “I’ve never seen RSL play like this,” “Look at Plata. I’ve never seen him make that run,” “Silva looks like he’s playing for a contract” — in awe. We were up for that game from the last row in the upper deck to the last seat on the bench. We wanted it.
That was the team we were waiting for — that we have been waiting for maybe for the last 3 years. I mean that in more than one way. That was the RSL that I have been waiting for since Kansas City in 2013 and I think Manchester United was the team that RSL had been waiting for this year. The match felt like a culmination and maybe even overcoming something that the team has struggled with for more than a year now: getting up for matches. Now, of course they were up for this one. It’s Manchester United. Look at it this way though; our best 11 played with their starting 11 for 30 minutes and dominated possession for long stretches.
That, hopefully, will pay dividends Wednesday and for the rest of the season. I worried that after the LA Galaxy match, having the two-week lay off might be the wrong time for a break. Would we lose that aggression? Would we slip back into old tendencies and bad habits? Or would playing MUFC be the next step in this ladder towards a reemergence for Real Salt Lake?
I’m taking this as the the next step and holding out hope that we now have a team brimming with confidence, ready to take on the world and show that the last two matches were no fluke — that we are a team that can play with the likes of Pogba and Lukaku and against a coach like Mourinho.