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The Salt: Five years after MLS Cup 2013, things finally look up

It’s been a long road getting from there to here.

2013 MLS Cup-Real Salt Lake v Sporting Kansas City Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

On Saturday, two teams will face off for a chance at MLS glory.

I don’t really care about either of those teams. I mean, I care that Portland gets a chance to lose, but that’s sort of the extent of it for me.

I do, however, care about one almost-magical day five years ago today. The same night I still haven’t watched highlights for — not at any point in the last five years. I understand MLS made a very nice video about it. I still haven’t watched that, either. I don’t think I’ll be doing that today, either. Maybe in another five years, I will.

I know everyone there in Kansas City on December 7, 2013 remembers how cold it was standing there. I also know that everyone there remembers just how good the crowd was that day.

I remember with vivid precision the missed penalties, the Believe chant ringing through that awful stadium, the frozen ground our team was playing on. December in Kansas City is a fate I wouldn’t wish on my enemies, but there we were.

That was — or could have been — a formative moment for Real Salt Lake. Unfortunately, it might have been more of a blip than we would like to admit.

After all, it was the last time we competed for a trophy. It was our last match under Jason Kreis. It was the last time we saw our fans truly unified behind one cause. It wasn’t the last match with most of those players — we aimed for continuity the following year under Jeff Cassar — but it was the last time things felt so good.

The last five years haven’t exactly been the best, but for the first time, it feels like things are moving in the right direction. I know you’ve all seen Mike Petke tweet at us (or me!), and I know we’ve had our share of opinions about how he’s doing over here.

But putting all that aside for a minute, let’s reflect.

The league has changed so, so much in five years. The Real Salt Lake of 2013 wouldn’t hold a candle to Atlanta United. I’d love to see RSL 2013 vs. RSL 2018, because I don’t know who would win. (Probably whoever was at home.)

The team has changed, too. The only remaining players from that era are Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman. The front office that brought us to that glorious precipice is more or less decimated. Between Garth Lagerwey and Bill Manning, there are two MLS Cups that have been won. Add in Nat Borchers and you have another. It’s a weird feeling.

For once, though, I feel like we could reach those heights again. This is the first time since that awful night in Kansas City that I’ve felt like we could be in an MLS Cup Final again. We weren’t all that far off this year. Sure, we backed into the playoffs, but we did surprisingly well when we got there. Even when we didn’t do well, we recovered with shocking ease.

I don’t know what things will be like in five years for Real Salt Lake and Major League soccer, but I do know that I’m looking forward to finding out where we’ll be situated.