Several years ago, before Jason Kreis left and Chivas USA folded, before we lost a pair of finals and lost to two expansion teams we had no business losing against, and before Jeff Cassar came and went, I watched a video that was posted on Facebook by Real Salt Lake.
The video featured a young girl who couldn’t have been more than three or four years old crying about RSL’s most recent loss—a 1-0 result at home against the mighty Chivas USA. (For those who may not remember too far back, the team you could always count on seeing at the bottom of the playoff table year after year after year.) She kept saying over and over that she wanted Real to score. It was touching, and it made me feel equally more upset and more okay with the loss. Because I knew that, win or lose, the feelings RSL matches bring out of us are not exclusive to those who can read a playoff table.
Last month, I bought my five-year old nephew his very first RSL jersey, a red one just like mine. When RSL scored, I cheered and my nephew looked up from his popcorn tub, confused as hell, wondering why everyone around him was yelling and hugging and slapping each other on the back. When the whistle blew and we started to trickle out, I was so high off of the emotions of the win (I mean, we had just come off of three incredibly lopsided losses) that I told my nephew we won because he had his lucky jersey on.
It was a silly lie, and I only said it because I wanted him to feel as excited as I was. I wanted him to feel what all fans want to feel—like we somehow played a part in the win. Somehow cheered loud enough, flipped the ref off enough, held or waved our favorite scarf over our heads fast enough, or slaved over a gorgeous tifo for long enough that at some point, a message was sent to the soccer gods and they decided to grace us with a win. It was a silly lie I foolishly thought I’d never have to face again.
Then I took my nephew to the game against Orlando. He wore his jersey and he kept telling his brother and cousin (who also came that this time) that Real was going to win again because he was wearing his lucky jersey. He was getting popcorn when Orlando scored, and I just didn’t have the heart (or guts) to tell him.
I didn’t want to face my lie from the match before, and I was still holding on to hope that I wouldn’t have to. Hope that RSL would pull one back and maybe we’d get another one in. At around the 70th minute, with no prompting from me and no knowledge of when the game would actually end, my nephew looked up at the scoreboard and saw that it was 1-0. For the next twenty minutes, my nephew kept telling me, “They’re still zero. They’re still not at one. Why haven’t they scored? I’m wearing my lucky jersey, why are they still at zero?”
I didn’t want to tell him that his jersey wasn’t lucky, didn’t have the heart to tell him or the guts to fess up to my lie. I wanted him to keep thinking that there was still magic in him wearing his jersey. I wanted him to believe what we all want to believe—that somehow, the little things that we do, the little rituals that we perform can still lead to a positive outcome on the game. I wanted him to keep the magic and the belief for at least one more game.
During the 88th minute, I looked my nephew in the eye and told him that I didn’t think we’d win this one, but it didn’t matter because it was still another day we had spent cheering on our favorite soccer team. He was hurt for a little, but then I told him that we could always go to another game, and maybe we’d win that one. “Don’t lose your spark, bud, we’ll bounce back.”
It’s frustrating, and it’s been hard, and after a few years of mediocrity slowly drifting towards the bottom of the table, it seems impossible at this point, but I assure you RSL fans—we aren’t out yet. There’s still magic left in our rituals, and in our favorite shirts. At least, that’s what I’ve been telling my office mates this week, and what I told them all last month, and what I will continue telling them every time we drop some points. Maybe we’ll win the next one, or the one after that. And if we don’t, we can at least rest easy knowing we won't lose to the Chivas USA ever again. Don’t lose your spark, guys, we’ll bounce back.