Major League Soccer Arrives
The dramatic arrival of a second major-league organization further establishes Utah as a progressive, growing climate for top-level sports and all types of innovative entertainment. The state has been home to the Utah Jazz of the NBA since 1979. During the Jazz’s tenure, Salt Lake City has played host to multiple NBA playoff series (including two NBA Finals) as well as an NBA All-Star Game. Utah was also the host of the enormously successful 2002 Olympic Winter Games, which brought positive attention from sponsors, athletes and media around the world.
“MLS expansion to Salt Lake City reminds me of the early days of the American Football League,” said the late MLS Investor-Operator Lamar Hunt, the only man inducted into three major sports Halls of Fame (soccer, football and tennis.) “The inclusion of Salt Lake City is a very important step for Major League Soccer. It’s a city of great vitality and achievement from a sports and entertainment standpoint. The Utah Jazz have been among the leaders in attendance of the NBA year after year, and no one will ever forget the grandeur of the Salt Lake Winter Olympics.”
Utah’s unique demographics make it particularly appealing to MLS. Boasting a significant soccer fan base, Utah has the highest per-capita participation in organized youth soccer, the third-fastest growing Hispanic and Latino population in the U.S., as well as a significant Eastern European population. Beyond just the sports entertainment value, Salt Lake’s MLS team brings significant socio-economic benefits to the region.
“Soccer is a great sport, a great unifier,” said SCP Worldwide Founder and Chairman Dave Checketts, Real Salt Lake’s founder and co-owner, a visionary sports entrepreneur and a native Utahn. “It provides affordable, exciting family entertainment. The excitement will surely continue to build here, and we’re going to have a lot of fun watching this team grow. We’re very happy about this opportunity and truly believe that this city is well-positioned to not only support a Major League Soccer team, but to serve as the bellwether in every aspect for the sport in this country. Utah is the right market, with the right fan base, with the Wasatch Front believing in all of the things that Major League Soccer represents: players as role models, players that are connected to the community, a team that cares about the community, and a League that is committed to growing the sport of soccer in this country with great integrity.”
While the team’s dedication to the community is unparalleled, its entrenchment in Utah and ability to lead the sport took a massive step forward with the opening of its Rio Tinto Stadium home in Fall, 2008, in Sandy, just 15 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City. Nestled in the heart of the Wasatch Front, virtually equidistant between Ogden in the North and Provo in the South, the team’s new location is perfectly placed in the population center of the nearly 2.5 million people residing in the Salt Lake Valley.
MLS Thrives In Utah
In July of 2004, Checketts and Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber announced that the dream of bringing world-class soccer to the great state of Utah had come to fruition. The mission was simple: create an internationally-recognized soccer brand, one which would become the flagship franchise of a growing American soccer league.
The addition of Checketts and SCP Worldwide completed a one-year period where Major League Soccer doubled its investor base, as CD Chivas USA owner Jorge Vergara and Colorado Rapids owner Stan Kroenke joined longtime visionaries Phil Anschutz, Lamar Hunt and Robert Kraft. July 14, 2004 was the fateful day when Utah was officially awarded the 12th MLS franchise. In attendance were many of Utah’s top government, youth soccer, business and community leaders.
“I believe that Major League Soccer is the sports league of the future, and I am excited that Utah has a chance to be a part of it,” said Checketts at the historic event, attended by many of Utah’s top government, youth soccer, business and community leaders. “Salt Lake’s success on the international stage with the Olympics was a major part of what went into making this decision for the league. I can assure you, we fought long and hard to bring this team to Utah. We faced serious competition from other cities who desperately wanted an MLS franchise. We are thrilled that we were successful in showing the MLS that Salt Lake was the right place for the League’s next team. I am excited at the prospect of leading this team to much success here in my home state, just as we were fortunate enough to do with the Jazz for so many years.”
“In less than one year, we’ve attracted three new investors who share in the passionate, collective and inspirational vision for American soccer as our existing team owners,” said Commissioner Garber, whose League celebrated its 10th Season in 2005, the same year as Real Salt Lake’s inaugural season. “We’re very pleased to welcome a new visionary to the MLS family. A man who has proven to be one of the most successful executives in professional sports, a man who has had countless opportunities to get involved in many different sports, a man who stepped up and said, ‘I choose to be involved in soccer.’ That man is Dave Checketts, and we’re very, very pleased to welcome him to the family.” “Soccer is the number one sport in the world,” stated Checketts. “It is growing rapidly in this country and this is a League filled with dedicated ownership and talented management. These are people who are committed to soccer. These are people that I have been familiar with in the NHL, NBA and the NFL. I have complete confidence in the leadership of MLS and I am excited to be their partner.”
Just five years later, roughly an equal time to that of a World Cup or Olympic cycle, Real Salt Lake has established itself as a leader in its community, a developer of young soccer talent on the field and one of Major League Soccer’s business leaders. Real Salt Lake has both uncovered and cultivated a vibrant soccer culture in the InterMountain West, one which has demonstrated a surprising level of acumen and savvy regarding the international nature of the sport, and one whose loyalty and dedication to the RSL shield inspires the organization.
Since Day One, RSL has set its collective sights on employing talented players of the highest character and deeply committed administrators, each of whom have served as solid community citizens, singularly focused on fulfilling that covenant with RSL fans of a winning, world-class organization, providing inspiration and aspiration to soccer followers around the globe.
In the Spring of 2007, Real Salt Lake announced its foray into the recent MLS Youth Development Initiative, introducing four elite youth teams at the U-16 and U-17 age groups. Real Salt Lake has two bases for this initial step, with the RSL Utah and RSL Arizona clubs entering teams in both age groups out of the Salt Lake City and Phoenix areas, respectively. In the Summer of 2008, RSL’s U-17 team – composed of players from both states – captured the SUM U-17 Cup, earning a prestigious trip to Madrid, Spain, for the Junior Club World Cup, also known as the Trofeo Quixote Sub-17. These teams take the field wearing the RSL badge in a manner aimed to inspire the very best players in this region to pursue soccer as the sport of choice for elite athletes.
RSL continues to work alongside clubs in Utah and Arizona to ensure that these programs give players opportunities under the RSL umbrella without encroaching upon existing commitments to their clubs, high schools, state ODP programs, or collegiate aspirations. Instead, the RSL Youth Development Initiative facilitates the identification and cultivation of emerging soccer talent in a professional environment.
Coming Together As A Team
In Real Salt Lake’s last 74 games since mid-August, 2007 – the equivalent of two-and-a- half seasons – the team has posted a record of 26-27-21, easily its most successful stretch ever. During that time, not coincidentally just months after Jason Kreis assumed the coaching reins and the arrival of Garth Lagerwey, Real Salt Lake turned the corner from an expansion team struggling to find its way on the field to a competitive, cohesive unit.
While 41 players came and went from the RSL roster between May, 2007 and August, 2008 – a turnover rate not seen since the circa-1996 New England and New York rosters – the foundation is now set with a core of both proven and emerging players, youth and experience hailing from all corners of the globe.
The team’s creative, attacking playmaker, Argentine Javier Morales, captured 2008 Team MVP honors and emerged a darkhorse for league-wide consideration. Signed with RSL through the 2012 season, Morales forms the “spine” of the team along with imposing Colombian defender Jamison Olave, who also inked a long-term contract through 2012. Also locked up long-term is MLS Cup 2009 Most Valuable Player Nick Rimando, whose legend grows between the pipes with every penalty-kick save. Other core players signed long-term are outside back Chris Wingert and forward Fabian Espindola.
The midfield area between Morales and Olave is patrolled by the team’s emotional leader and Captain Kyle Beckerman, who has brought bite, tenacity and a “Braveheart” mentality to the pitch and the locker room. Beckerman’s history in the volatile Rocky Mountain Cup with Colorado is spotless, the former Rapid undefeated in the season series, helping RSL to capture its first-ever and only hardware in the 2007, 2008 and 2009 editions of the fan-created competition.
Royal Name, Royal Aspirations
One word – Real (pronounced RAY-äl) – celebrates the international elegance and multi-cultural distinction of Utah’s second majorleague professional sports organization.
“Internationally, the Real brand signifies soccer at its highest level — soccer with excitement, tradition and flair,” says Checketts. “The name symbolizes dignity, history and, quite literally, royalty. It is our daily mission to establish those attributes for our team.”
The presence of the sport of soccer on the international stage inspired the team’s unique nomenclature. Real Salt Lake aims to think and act globally in its vision, with the bilingual name demonstrating passion and respect for soccer’s heritage and reflecting its lofty aspirations for competitive excellence and crowning achievements in the community.
“The name, colors and shield of Real Salt Lake represent soccer’s spirit as a unifying sport, as well as the state of Utah’s rapidly expanding diversity,” said Checketts. “Real Salt Lake will lead what MLS Commissioner Don Garber calls ‘the New America’ and will serve as a tremendous source of pride not only across the Wasatch Front, but also for fans around the world who recognize our aspirations for a competitive, family-oriented organization. As we continue to grow as a league, the RSL tradition will define our path and our core values will resonate across the global sports marketplace.”
On May 3, 2007, upon his introduction, Real Salt Lake’s second head coach, Jason Kreis, uttered the latin phrase “Audentis Fortuna Juvat” – “Fortune Favors the Bold.” Kreis certainly believes in the power of this concept to his core, introducing bold changes during his first nine months at the helm, expecting the moves to bring imminent fortune.
In Kreis’ words, “Real Salt Lake fans are the best in MLS, and have been since day one. That RSL fans share the same values – Belief, Passion, Desire, Determination, Commitment and Sacrifice – motivates every player, coach, and administrator in the RSL organization to forge ahead and redouble efforts to achieve our lofty goals.”
Real Salt Lake's goals are lofty, its aspirations regal. Each and every day, in every endeavor, RSL seeks to serve the Salt Lake Valley, Utah and the Intermountain West as a visionary community citizen, intent on delivering on its commitment to build and develop a winning, world-class organization, one which will not only stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the world’s most recognizable and revered sports brands, but one which is dynamic, diverse, family-oriented, ambitious, community-based and internationally-minded.
Another Major League Soccer season in Utah is upon us, and the organization from the ownership, to the players, fans and staff are elated to embark on what promises to be a fantastic and rewarding journey. RSL believes that the fan experience with Real Salt Lake will be nothing short of thrilling, combing a competitive team on the field with an electric atmosphere off it. That goal is the common thread that binds Real Salt Lake and the Utah soccer community not only in 2010, but for many successful decades to come.