Saturday, March 7, 2009

Stories from Salt Lake

When you name your local soccer team after Real Madrid, you give yourself a lot to live up to. Yet Salt Lake City (both the place and its soccer team) more than lived up to its variety of expectations.

Let's start with the team – Real Salt Lake. Just like their NBA basketball team neighbours (the Utah Jazz) the name suggests a kind of glitz & glamour. Admittedly, the Jazz moved their franchise from New Orleans and kept the reference to the music scene there.

But the soccer club could have chosen any name under the sun when the team formed in 2005. The potential alternatives at the time were the Salt Lake Highlanders, Soccer Club, Alliance or Union. In that respect, they chose pretty well...

As part of the naming process, RSL set up a link-up with Real Madrid who they will play a friendly match against every two years, and they've also made connections between their respective youth systems.

And of course, as is the requirement for MLS membership franchises these days, they built a soccer specific stadium.

The Rio Tinto stadium is incredible. Not too far from downtown (15mins in car), there was a sort of opening ceremony in 2006 - even Beckham was there! But the Rio Tinto did not officially open its doors until the end of last season. The best part is the giant balcony just off the corporate lounge, where you can enjoy a beer with an excellent view of the action.

It's funny, during my three-day stay in Salt Lake, I took two guided tours; one was the Rio Tinto, the other being the Mormon church's Temple Square. To say they were different experiences would be putting it mildly.

The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints dominates the landscape in downtown SLC – temples, tabernacles and offices make up the impressive Temple Square.

The Mormon 'sisters' who provided the tour of the Square were very friendly and interesting. But after a half hour tour, looking round the temples before declining their kind offer of providing contact information for future home visits, I was ready to leave.

On my way back through the downtown area, I noticed something. Well, more like the LACK of something.

One difference between many of the US cities I've visited compared to most UK cities is that, aside from around the soccer stadium you really don't notice a great deal of soccer elsewhere.

If only I could say the same about the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.....

As well as visiting the temples, I also had the pleasure of sharing my stay in the guest house (see previous post...) with two Mormon men.

They were both nice guys. But as time went on, they each revealed some rather personal and often fairly bizarre (and frankly alarming) little insights in to their past, before (or sometimes after) they subscribed to the Mormon faith.

An ex-marine, who had such a bad fall out with his wife that he had wound up in hospital with a minor heart attack (that day), is an interesting person to share a room with. And even more so when he talks about the time God convinced him not to use the knife he had in his hand, or his poetry about Adolf Hitler.

Going back to the expectations I had before arriving in the city, this kind of blew them out of the water.

Speaking of expectations, before I left Salt Lake I met with Real's General Manager Garth Lagerwey about the new season. He seemed fairly confident of a better performance than Playoff Finals, which they reached last season.

“It is easier to make the step up from being a bad team to a decent team”, he told me after team training. “But making the step up from a decent team to a great team is much tougher. That is what we want to achieve this year”.

Soccer in the Salt Lake area is thriving, and it would be no great surprise to see Real go on to win the MLS Cup at some point in the near future. But when it comes to my own memories of Salt Lake, I think my Mormon room-mates will be the real talking point. No pun intended....

Soccer Goals

from Robbin's Sports


  1. Hey Mike,

    Great blog you've got here. Really interesting to see American soccer from an outside perspective. I'm a RBNY supporter myself. When you get to the East Coast, you'll find RBNY should be Red Bull New Jersey- all the training facilities and even the stadium is in NJ.

    By the way, you might also want to check out Charleston Battery of the USL in Charleston, SC. Great city and great soccer!

  2. I was wondering if you woud be traveling o Puerto Rico to check out the Puerto Rico Islanders who play on the USL-1 and are on the smei finals of the CONCACAF Champions League... anyways if you will let me know I can help you with getting the contacts for the team.