A lot of players have spent time on Real Salt Lake’s roster over the years; some arrived with great fanfare, others merely a mention. Some showed promise, while others never saw the field.
Here’s a look at three more former players in our Where Are They Now series.
Matt had the right credentials that you would expect from a soccer player drafted out of college. He was Ivy League Rookie of the Year playing for Princeton; in his 2nd year the Lions won the league title, and he was named to the All-Ivy 2nd team. In 2002 he won the William Winston Roper award, the highest male student-athlete award at Princeton.
He was drafted by the Dallas Burn as the 18th overall pick in 2002, but couldn’t find a consistent role during his rookie year. In 2003 he started branching out a bit more, and became a utility player which finally led him to playing in half of the Burn’s games in 2004. Then Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake joined the league, and Matt was selected by RSL as their 7th pick (14th overall) in the 2005 MLS Expansion Draft. He would join Jason Kreis as the other former Burn player moving to Utah.
Unfortunately for Behncke, at RSL he was a second-string player in a defense consisting of players like Eddie Pope and Brian Dunseth. He played only 587 minutes over 8 games in that first losing season for RSL, and was released at the end of the year. Matt must have seen the writing on the wall and he opted to play only one more season for USL-PDL’s Williamsburg Legacy before returning to college to finish his law degree.
Matt Behncke is now a partner at the law firm of Susman Godfrey L.L.P. in Houston, Texas.
You may best remember him for having the best name of any MLS player ever (in some people’s opinion), and he played pretty well to back it up! Jump ahead to just past the 9th minute of this video to see the RSL portion of his highlights.
Before joining RSL in 2012 he had already been a journeyman in the lower divisions, playing for no less than 12 different teams. We had tried to bring him to the team in 2010, but at the time he declined the offer, and signed with the Vancouver Whitecaps (then still in USL) hoping to secure a place when they moved to MLS; however they traded him to Tampa Bay FC mid-season. Tampa Bay loaned him to the Carolina Railhawks for the 2011 season, and after which he finally accepted RSL’s offer.
Steele played 29 games with RSL, starting 11 of them. He scored two goals and notched two assists that year, and was a fantastic super-sub and fan favorite. However when the team bowed out of the CONCACAF Champions League in the group stage, then lost in the first round of the playoffs; some hard choices had to be made. At the end of the season salary cap budget forced RSL to release six former starters such as Jamison Olave, Chris Wingert, and Will Johnson, as well as decline contracts on Steele and several others.
Steele went back on trial with some lower division teams, before getting a last minute reprieve by the newly named New York Red Bulls coach Mike Petke. Steele remained with the Red Bulls for 2 years, and as with RSL; quickly became a fan favorite. Mid-season 2014, seeking more playing time; he accepted an offer to play in Australia and the Red Bulls agreed to release him. He returned to the U.S. a year later and continued to bounce around the lower divisions, playing for four different teams.
Jonny Steele is still playing at age 34, currently for Ramsgate in Kent, England — a semi-professional club, playing at level 7-8 in the UK pyramid.
Don’t be surprised if you don’t recognize Leighton, he was only with RSL for a very short period of time. Leighton came from a family well versed in football, and with a name like O’Brien, you know it has to be Irish. His father, brother and uncle were all soccer players of some renown back in the days when NASL was all the rage.
He was drafted in 1999 by the New England Revolution but was cut during preseason. The San Jose Clash picked him up days later, but after playing a mere 4 games for them he was loaned to the MLS Pro-40 (later to become Generation Adidas) developmental team playing in the USL A-League (eventually to become the USL Championship).
From 2000-2005 he gained experience on several teams, one of which was the Seattle Sounders (then in USL), who loaned him to no less than 4 different teams - two of them playing indoor soccer. Finally he would get his chance to return to MLS when Real Salt Lake came knocking. As he was still signed with the Sounders, RSL struck a deal; the MLS side would play an exhibition match in exchange for his rights. An unusual roundabout method, and one that certainly wouldn’t gain much traction these days.
O’Brien would only play 6 games for RSL before being loaned back to the Sounders in August. He would play for them until 2008 when they joined MLS, but did not gain a position for the jump. He would play a few more years in the lower divisions before retiring. In 2014 the Sounders honored him along with other MVP’s.
Leighton O’Brien is now the Technical Director for youth at Pacific Northwest Soccer Club in Washington State.