Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake are an American soccer team playing in the MLS Western Conference based in Salt Lake City, Utah. They were the twelfth team to join the MLS and are now a feeder-club of Real Madrid.
The original Salt Lake City team were the Utah Blitzz, who were created in 1997 and won the Western Conference of the United Soccer League (the third tier of American soccer) for four consecutive seasons between 2001 and 2004. However, after they ran into financial difficulties, the club was liquidated.
Real Salt Lake rose from the ashes of the Blitzz in 2004 after it was decided that the area could support an MLS team. Dave Checketts, former chief-executive of the basketball teams the Utah Jazz and New York Knicks in the NBA, announced that he would be forming the club which would be the 12th team in the MLS and enter the league with CD Chivas.
Affiliation with Real Madrid
The name Real was chosen as a homage to Real Madrid, in order to develop a brand and have a famous footballing name. However, this caused some controversy initially as the Utah residents felt the name had no relevance to Utah or Salt Lake City. The team colors are claret red, cobalt blue, and Real Madrid gold.
In 2006 the club signed an agreement to become affiliated with the Madrid club. This deal means that the clubs will play a friendly match in Salt Lake City every two years, Salt Lake will have access to Madrid’s training facilities for a two week period every February, and a youth academy will be created for the American club.
Real Madrid will pay for half of the £25 million academy and have the first option to sign the most talented players to come through. Around 200 children aged between 12 and 18 will train at the academy, which opened its doors in 2008.
Real Salt Lake have the biggest stadium in the Western Conference. They play in the University of Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium, which has a capacity of 45,000, but the average attendance during the 2007 season was under 16,000. A football-specific stadium is being built for the club in Sandy, a suburb of Salt Lake City, and it should be in use in late 2008.
The history of the stadium was a protracted one though. In 2006, a funding request was rejected twice by the local council over concerns about donating so much money to a financially unproven franchise. Chairman Dave Checketts set a deadline of 12th August 2006 to reach an agreement on the construction of a new stadium for Real and it was unknown if any deal would be reached.
Fortunately, with just hours remaining, the club and the local council signed an agreement to go ahead with the construction. That wasn’t the end of matters though as, in January 2007, they ran into more trouble, with the Debt Review Committee deeming the stadium a financially unviable plan. Another hurdle was eventually overcome when Utah Governor John Huntsman intervened and arranged for the $110 million arena to be constructed.
Real Salt Lake have had very little success on the pitch since their formation. The only season in which they haven’t come last in the Western Conference was their first, when they finished above fellow newcomers Chivas, despite winning just 5 of their 30 league games. They have finished rock-bottom in each of the last two seasons and have failed to make the last eight in any competitions.
However, in the 2006 season, they ended the season with a much improved 39 points and were just two points away from coming fourth and qualifying for the playoffs. They had the same amount of points as LA Galaxy but finished last because of an inferior goal average. The next season they struggled and finished 13 points away from a playoff place, winning just 6 of 30 league games.
First and only trophy
Every year Real Salt Lake compete in the Rocky Mountains trophy against their arch-rivals, the Colorado Rapids. This is decided by the results of the games between the two teams over the course of the season. The Rapids won both of the first two years but Real gained their first trophy in the 2007 season after two 1-0 wins in the last two games to win the series 7 points to 4. So far this is the only trophy the club have won.
Famous players and hopes for 2008
Real have had some famous and exciting players, including Ghanaian-American wonder-kid Freddy Adu, who appeared 11 games for the club before transferring to Benfica for $2 million, Clint Mathis and Eddie Pope, both of whom appeared in the World Cup in 2002 and 2006 for the US. Other American internationals Nick Rimando, Nat Borchas, Kyle Beckerman, Robbie Findlay, Jeff Cunningham, Chris Klein, and Jason Kreis have also played for Real.
The Jamaican contingent is also substantial, with Andy Williams having made the most appearances with 55, and Jamaican-born Jeff Cunningham being the record-scorer with 18. Real added to their team in 2007 by signing Scottish striker Kenny Deuchar who had been a huge success for Gretna FC in Britain, banging in the goals as they rose from non-league football to the Scottish Premier League.
John Ellinger was manager from the team’s conception until August 2007 when former Real player and ex-American international Jason Kreis took over. He has signed Findley and Borchas as well as Argentinians Matias Mantilla, Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola.
Real started off with the 2008 season with a 1-1 draw against Chicago Fire. They are hoping to be more competitive this season and to establish themselves as a force in North American soccer. With a new stadium and youth academy planned, links to one of the biggest football clubs in the world, and an ever growing fanbase, there is some reason to smile on Salt Lake for the future.