Monday, May 9, 2011

Real Salt Lake: Upwards and Onwards

Upwards and Onwards.  These words adorn the walls at Rio Tinto Stadium. At present, those words might seem hollow, but they shouldn’t. The boys from Real Salt Lake and indeed their entire organization have been on one wild ride these past few months. CONCACAF Champions League and its heartbreaking defeat, the first loss of Rio Tinto in over thirty games, dreams of the Club World Cup shattered, first league loss and now what could push the team to the breaking point: the loss of a star playmaker.

Javier Morales suffered two broken bones in his left leg. He was treated in Salt Lake and is expected to miss several months before having any chance of being back on the field.

For a team with such high aspirations and expectations, this could be the final straw that derails the team…if they let it. Real Salt Lake are a unique bunch. Led by one of the youngest coaches in the league, Jason Kreis, the team has formed what looks to be a family both on the field and off. They don’t have one star in the team. That is because another set of words adorn the walls of the locker room: The Team Is The Star. It’s a concept that appears to be embraced by the entire organization. It seems to be embraced by Xango, its sponsor, by management who chartered flights for the team in its Champions League run and most importantly by the players.

The players of RSL work extremely hard for each other. One need look no further than the marathon Will Johnson seems to run every game or the effort Fabian Espindola puts into every run, every attack. The trust and yet pressure Nick Rimando puts into his defense. One need look no further than the passion showed by Kyle Beckerman after Morales went down. The captain went into a frenzy defending his downed comrade, pushing and shoving Chivas players until he was restrained by a teammate.  

Furthermore, the players care about one another. There’s an obvious bond between some of them. The team is very well balanced and remarkably deep. Real Salt Lake does not have that one player to whom all others look; the team is the star.If you’ve not treated yourself to any of the Champions League 360 documentaries on the team, do so. Well worth your time.

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The question now becomes this: Will this rise and fall of emotions derail the team? That comes down to three elements, all of whom have a symbiotic relationship to another. It comes down to the players, the coach and the fans. If RSL is truly to move past these heartbreaks, they’ll have to trust one another and Jason Kreis to return them to the beautiful soccer they were playing last season and in the Champions League. 

Everyone: fans, journalists, editors, players and coaches should wish RSL well and hope they return to form, regardless of what other team they may give their allegiance to. Real Salt Lake united the league. Real Salt Lake became the star that shone for American soccer and people rallied behind them. That is because the team IS the star…and they just need to remember that when they take the field. If they do that, we can all take a deep breath and find comfort in that a quality team, brand and organization is back on track.

Upwards and Onwards RSL. Upwards and Onwards.