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My RSL Story: A Family Ordeal

There might not be soccer right now, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t stories to be told.

New York Red Bulls v Real Salt Lake Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/MLS via Getty Images

Hey everyone! I’m Joseph and I’m a new writer here at the RSL Soapbox. I guess you could say I came on at an inopportune time with sports being cancelled for the near future, but I’m excited to contribute to the community! Right now, I’m here to tell you how I got into Real Salt Lake and why I’m passionate about the team and soccer in general.

The Beginnings

World Cup Qualifier: USA v Costa Rica
USMNT players celebrate a goal in their June 4, 2005 World Cup Qualifier against Costa Rica, played at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

I was born of goodly parents who raised me in soccer. My dad played soccer in high school in the 80’s and he had me and my siblings playing soccer as soon as we could kick a ball. When RSL was announced I was 8 years old and didn’t even know that MLS existed, but we were all super excited to have a pro soccer team (RIP the Blitz) in the state. My first game was a double-header in the middle of the summer in 2005. The first game was a USMNT World Cup Qualifier and the second was RSL vs FC Dallas. I don’t remember much about those games, but I do remember the drive to Rice Eccles Stadium with my family and how my dad teased us kids for not knowing what FC stood for. I also remember how after the games we all had heat exhaustion. That part was not fun, but from then on watching soccer became more than just a spectator experience for me. Going to RSL games became family time. My dad’s work schedule did not allow him to take many or lengthy vacations and he had to spend a lot of time away from the family for work, but going to RSL games meant spending time with Dad. This led to my parents getting season tickets in 2006. They’ve had those tickets ever since (although my dad definitely thought about cancelling them this year. He’s been pretty frustrated with the club). I don’t remember too many specifics from those early seasons seeing I was 10 when that happened, but there are certain moments I remember clearly.

I remember that infamous Colorado Rapids game. My 10-year-old self did not see what happened after the game with Pablo Mastroeni because my dad got us out of there faster than you can say Rocky Mountain Cup. That game was more to me than that incident though. I don’t know exactly how everything happened that led up to this, but there was a mix up with my family’s season tickets for that game, so the club gave us box seats. I remember my dad stressing out about what was going on for a while, and then excitingly telling us that we were going to get some of the best seats in the stadium. I was so excited when I got there and 1) there was unlimited soda and snacks and 2) we could stay inside and watch the game. I wouldn’t normally be excited about #2, but it was pouring during that game so I was very okay with it.

MLS Cup to MLS Cup

I also remember when I was in 8th grade and RSL won the MLS Cup. My parents wouldn’t let me watch the game live, so they recorded it and I got up early on Monday morning to watch it. It was probably one of the happiest moments of my life. I also remember the CCL run and how my family and I skipped one of my Jr. High award ceremonies to be at the final. I never felt more broken after a game than I did that day, and I honestly don’t know if the game or the awards ceremony would have been worse to sit through. I remember losing the US Open Cup to DC United. I don’t want to talk about it. I remember being so emotionally invested into the 2013 MLS Cup final that I couldn’t sit on the couch and watch the PK shootout. I went and shoveled snow instead and never went back to watch the highlights. I remember not being worried about Kreis leaving to join NYCFC, and actually being happy for him, hoping that his time there would help him become the USMNT coach some day. The 2014 season was a blur that got cut off early for me because I left on a mission to Cali, Colombia before the end of the regular season, but before I move on, I need to talk about something a little different.

Favorite Players and Colombian Connections

New York Red Bulls v Real Salt Lake
Jamison Olave after scoring the first ever goal at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Photo by George Frey/Major League Soccer via Getty Images

My first favorite RSL player was Mehdi Ballouchi. Honestly, it probably had to do with me liking his hair more than anything else. I also had a talent in those earlier seasons: I knew every player’s name (even if he didn’t play much), where he was from, what team we got him from, where he played, and would keep track of how many goals they would score. Recently I’ve kind of slacked off about knowing that about every player, but if my family doesn’t know who a player is, I’m the one they always turn to to tell them, even before looking at Wikipedia. After Ballouchi was traded to the Rapids, I don’t remember having a favorite player until Jamison Olave came along. That man was my idol. He was fast, strong, and dominated everything he did. Around that time I started playing defense with my UYSA club team (shout out to Los Diablos) and he was the player I tried to be like.

I actually have quite a few memories about Olave. I remember his goal in the first game at Rio Tinto Stadium. I remember in a game away at the Chicago Fire, a Fire player was through on goal and in my young, teenage mind all hope was lost. Then suddenly from outside the frame, Olave came in sprinting to catch him. Not only did he catch him, he went straight in with a slide tackle and won the ball. I’d never seen anything like it and I was in awe. Several years down the road I was a new missionary in Colombia, in the city Olave played in before coming to RSL. In my broken Spanish I had my first complete conversation with someone, and all we talked about was about Olave. The conversation was basically just a Deportivo Cali fan and me talking about how great of a player he was and how we wished he could have had a chance with the Colombian national team. Being an RSL fan and a soccer fan really helped me connect with a new culture and a new family for the two years I was in the land of the parceros.

Returning Home

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at Real Salt Lake
Damir Kreilach celebrating a goal in the 6-2 win against the LA Galaxy in September 2018, one of my favorite games from the past few years.
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

When I returned from Colombia in 2016, I didn’t skip a beat with RSL. I missed most of the Cessar era, and I’m not too upset about it to be honest, and since then I’ve been looking forward to the day when I can see RSL return to the glory days. I would consider myself an optimistic person in general, but I think I’m one of the biggest RSL optimists out there. A lot of that has to do with my ties between family and RSL. RSL still is synonymous with family for me. Now my RSL family has grown beyond just my immediate family. I still want my RSL experience to be a positive bonding experience, and I don’t think that griping about us selling Savarino this offseason is the best way to accomplish that goal. If you ask me what I think about anything negative when it comes to RSL, my response will usually go something like this: “Yeah, this aspect of RSL isn’t the best, but I really think that these changes are putting us in a place to succeed.” I love watching good soccer, but keeping the uplifting family aspect that I have grown to love about my RSL experience is just as important to me.