A Real Salt Lake Identity Crisis

So this is one of those blog posts that I write, scrap, write again, scrap again and eventually find myself drawn back to no matter how many times I try to walk away from it. As seasons end and seasons get ready to start again I find myself always considering what has changed, what needs to change and while there is no doubt that the last couple of seasons have been far from rewarding for most fans as far as results on the pitch, the question is why. We have the formation change, we have roster changes galore, but what if the issue is something more? What if the issue is rooted in something other than the salary cap, other than roster rules, other than formations? What if the issue is a lack of identity?

Now before you roll your eyes, too late I expect for some, hear me out a bit. Since day one in the league, RSL has played with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, a small market team, not a glamourous destination, a lack of attention from the league or national soccer media, sponsors more fitting of arena football than a professional soccer team, and so on. You can turn something like that into a motivating factor or you can turn it into an excuse, and it seems like lately we have used it as either an excuse or a crutch. Now some of you are going to really roll your eyes at this next part, so take a few seconds and do it now, cause you know you will.

When Jason Kreis took over RSL was going nowhere fast, a bad team playing in a bad stadium on a bad turf surface, bleak was being optimistic.  Then some things started falling in place, some smart trades and signings turned things around on the pitch.  A stadium started being built, thing were starting to look up and beyond the stands hidden in the tunnel that few other than players see was a sign, “audentes fortuna juvat” or Fortune Favors the Bold, it was an outward indication of an inward philosophy at least for Jason. When you combine that with the very public “The Team is the Star” philosophy, you could tell things were changing, moving in a more positive direction, 2009 saw both this philosophy of how to build a club come to fulfillment.

the pitch we started to see players fighting for each other, less finger pointing, and in the moment that most clearly sticks out in my mind as the defining moment of the season and maybe the franchise at the time happened in what most would have considered a pointless friendly match. After RSL took a 1-0 lead in the first half over Chivas (the real one from Mexico) things got rather chippy to say the least, a very hard foul on Andy Williams just before halftime brought a charging Jamison Olave to his defense, Olave and a Chivas player were shown red cards and the conflict continued into the tunnels and actually required a law enforcement presence to keep players separated. It was that moment that something seemed to click collectively for RSL and the end result was a run to MLS Cup, a progression from making the Conference Finals in 2008.  For 6 years RSL forced themselves to be relevant in MLS by making it two MLS Cup finals, 4 Conference finals, a US Open Cup final and the first MLS team to make it to the CCL Championship finals.

After the heartbreaking loss in the 2013 MLS Cup finals, Jason was gone, soon followed by RSL GM Garth Lagerwey and eventually RSL President Bill Manning, as Del Loy Hansen took full charge of the team and clearly wanted his people in those roles.  Since then RSL has been very hard pressed to build on or even replicate the success they had leading up to that MLS Cup loss, and while I believe there are always multiple sides to every story one can’t look at RSL’s last half of the season last year and not believe something was very, very wrong.  It is unlikely that as fans we will ever really know what happened to cause the departures of Javier Morales and Juan Manuel Martinez (Burrito), but the impact to RSL’s roster was clear.  Rosters can be rebuilt and RSL has been busy since their ouster from the playoffs, but at the start of last year everyone was excited by our roster but it wasn’t enough.  So it is time for RSL to find their identity again, or establish a new one.

MLS has changed greatly since 2013, new teams, new owners, roster changes and more money being spent on bigger and bigger names.  The changes since 2008 are even more startling, so the days of “The Team is the Star” are long gone, the bold choices made by Jason and Garth are mostly things of the past for RSL and now it is on Jeff and Craig to establish what RSL is now, what we will be going forward.  The identity of the team will be a reflection of the culture in the locker room and the front office, it will be a reflection of the attitude of the coaching staff and players, it will be what gets thru what MLS rates as the 2nd hardest schedule in 2018.  In the rapid changing world of MLS can a team establish a unique identity?  Or are we simply at a point where such things no longer matter?  I believe they do still matter, I believe it is how a coach and staff can stamp their mark on a team a way to build a roster around something a way they can survive and thrive in the long hot summers of the MLS season.

That’s How I See It

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