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We Want to Believe: What we can learn from RSL’s 2007 crisis and turnaround

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Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

Real Salt Lake is facing an identity crisis. It has been 7 long years since we made it to the MLS cup finals, and during those years the team has lost a lot of the identity that brought the cup to Utah in 2009. So, who are we? Maybe the place to start is who were we?

To begin let’s look back to 2007, and how after the first four matches, Jason Kreis took over as coach. Many newer fans may not remember this, but Kreis was a starting striker for RSL that season before the coaching appointment, which saw him retire as a player. That year was a huge rebuilding effort, and we saw Garth Lagerwey come in as the general manager during the season as well. Now, let’s not kid ourselves, RSL was not good that year, not at all.

2008 brought some real changes. You can just tick off the names, Kyle Beckerman, Jamison Olave, Javier Morales, Nat Borchers, and Robbie Findley, all joined the team, the RIOT opened, and all of a sudden the team made the playoffs and picked up in 2009 where they left off in 2008, as a dominant team when playing at home.

Real Salt Lake was absolutely dominant at home. They were one of the teams no one wanted to face on the road. They played hard, they scored goals, there was grit, there was teamwork, and there was a sense of pride as they took the field. They didn’t give up, even when there were moments of mental lapses on the road. Were they good all season? No, in fact, they had a losing season, but made it into the playoffs, and eventually won on penalty kicks as the Wall of the Wasatch stood tall.

Believe was not just a slogan. Today, all too often, we are asking the question that starts the fight song, ‘IF you believe’, rather than using it as a statement of pride, as in WE believe. So what happened? In 2013 Real Salt Lake was officially purchased by Dell Loy Hansen, who already owed part of the team. And we lost a number of key players. What really hurt was losing Jason Kreis as head coach after the season ended. What hurt even more was losing Garth Lagerwey after 2014.

Real Salt Lake was built on the backs of people who just didn’t quit. The fans came to believe in the team, and believe in the coaching staff, the front office, and even the ownership. Dell Loy Hansen seemed promising, as he built the academy and training complexes, brought Women’s professional soccer to Salt Lake City, and a number of new players. However, the question seems to be answered if he brought a toxic culture to Salt Lake City.

So who is Real now? We don’t seem to have much a home field advantage. The front office and team have alienated even strong supporters (and former players). We don’t seem to have that grit and identity on the field. There isn’t the chip on the shoulder mentality of the team that won the cup. Nick Rimando is gone, Kyle Beckerman is not the same player. No Javier Morales, no Jamison Olave, no Nat Borchers, no one has really filled their shoes either. Do we have talent? Yes! Do we have some pieces? Yes! Do we have the mental toughness to play cohesively and win together as a team? To be determined.

Is the TEAM still the star? Does the team believe? Does the fanbase believe? As the corruption from within is slowly carved out, who will remain? What players will want to play in this environment, and when it is cleansed, how long before the memory of it is gone? What comes next in 2020 and beyond? As I have said before, maybe we all are just Fox Mulder wanting to believe.