We are now almost two weeks into July, and the sports year (as I choose to observe it) is just about over. Almost all of the sports I like to follow are in their off-season right now, Utah sports in particular. Fortunately, we will soon be celebrating the New Sports Year with the beginning of football season, which is only about six weeks away. Until then, I have at least one Utah sports item that will have to tide me over.
At the top of the very short list is Real Salt Lake, who would be much more exciting if they would just win a few games. I have been a casual soccer fan for about 15 years and a legitimate fan for the past three years. This means I am still getting used to The Beautiful Game being a part of my regular sports rotation, but I’m excited about it. However, in the last year or so I have made what feels like a Soccer Breakthrough, and my interest level is now teetering on the brink of “big fan.” If this is the case, and I continue to progress along those lines, then I could graduate to “soccer hooligan” in 5-7 more years.
The genesis of this personal escalation came with the expansion of Major League Soccer into my home town. I probably would have been happy to labor along as a casual follower for many more years – watching the World Cup and the Olympics, checking on a game if I happen to channel surf past it – but then a tier one team (so to speak) became headquartered a few miles from my house.
Unfortunately, RSL has not given me much of a reason to be a fan this year. They have taken several large steps backward from last year, when they just missed qualifying for the playoffs. The addition of Freddy Adu was supposed to improve their midfield play and make the team better. The results have been much worse, and they have been losing or jettisoning players as they go. In fact, they are currently on par to post the worst season in MLS history.
There are plenty of theories as to why this is happening, and we have considered a few of those in our podcast/blog. But the point I am trying to make here is that in this year, my Soccer Breakthrough year, RSL could have sewn up a lifetime of good will and impassioned fandom from me. It wouldn’t have even taken a championship or anything, but a few exciting wins would have done the trick.
While I know the issue of my interest level in the team is strictly a personal deal, I believe it’s symptomatic of a greater problem facing RSL. I’m sure they want to win games just as much as fans want them to, but they are losing potential fans by not producing victories. Some games have been very close, and they have lost or tied in spite of playing very well. But that may not translate to the sports fan who is trying to drum up some interest in soccer. That casual observer will just see the failures, and probably not come back to see more.
I guess it’s not too late for RSL to turn things around this year, but I don’t see any reason why they will win more than one or two more games before the season ends. A team that has managed one win in 12 games probably isn’t about to roll of seven wins in a row. They are not yet “mathematically eliminated” from the playoffs, but almost certainly “realistically eliminated.”
Meanwhile, my summer of soccer is being fed by the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Copa America (where the US National Team embarrassed itself) the U-20 World Cup (where Freddy Adu is playing extremely well), and my new favorite team, Hammarby IF of the Swedish Allsvenskan. (A team I have paid attention to for a few years, but rose up this summer to take what could have been RSL’s place as “My Team.”)
[By the way, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to everyone I know who has had to endure my blathering and gushing about Hammarby these past few months. I can’t seem to help doing it, and even the UTAH SportsCast has been inundated now. My sincerest apologies.]