This week I’m throwing it all the way back to the beginning of RSL, who have undergone a recent change in ownership. Dave Checketts, founder of Real Salt Lake, established SCP Worldwide, a consulting and investment service firm for sports teams. In 2004, the company bought into Major League Soccer, and July 14th MLS awarded their 12th franchise to the state of Utah. Steve Pastorino was named General Manager and John Ellinger was hired as the head coach, and in October that year the team was officially named “Real Salt Lake”. On Nov. 17, RSL acquired their first player, goal machine Jason Kries, from the Dallas Burn, and eventually added other well known players like Eddie Pope and Clint Mathis. The team would play home games at Rice Eccles stadium, on the University of Utah campus, with hopes of one day building a soccer specific stadium. So began my addiction that I have no intention of rehabbing.
I don’t think any RSL fans who have supported the team since the very beginning can forget April 2, 2005 – Real Salt Lake’s first game against the New York MetroStars at their stadium in New Jersey. The players slogged through the windy and slippery game and played to a 0-0 draw, which I, as a fan, was happy about for our first game in MLS. The team then traveled to California to play the LA Galaxy. This ended up in a 3-1 loss, but Jason Kries scored the first goal, so I was still somewhat happy despite the loss. I was even happier when Real had their first home game against rivals Colorado Rapids. With 25,287 fans packed into Rice Eccles stadium, the elation in the crowd’s cheers as Brian Dunseth scored the game winner in the 81st minute was deafening! The rest of the season wasn’t too memorable as the final record was 5-22-5.
What I really want to focus on is Dave Checketts’ influence on the team. It amazes me that he could take a 5-22-5 team in 2005 and turn them into Champions in 2009 and one of the most consistently successful and best teams in the league to this day. His biggest decision in changing the club was in 2007 when he asked Jason Kries to retire as a player and become the new head coach. Jason recommended that Garth Lagerwey be named the new General Manager, and Dave realized that the best way to make the club successful was to have chemistry throughout the whole organization, so he listened to Jason and hired Garth. The rest is history. Jason personally went down to Argentina and brought back Matias Mantilla, Fabian Espindola, and Javier Morales, and with the help of the everyone at RSL, later brought in players like Kyle Beckerman, Jamison Olave, Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Will Johnson, Alvaro Saborio, etc. Real Salt Lake are definitely not one of the top spending clubs in the league, so how are they one of the best? Checketts helped instill RSL’s “the team is the star,” mantra, which all the players and fans have adopted, creating one big RSL family – relying on each other for success. It has become more than just a team.
The reason Rio Tinto Stadium exists is because of this dedicated founder and his supporting family. In his press conference announcing his retirement as co-owner of the club he talked about how difficult it was to get the stadium approved, “It was the fourth time the county council had voted down the stadium, and I thought it was dead. I was walking into a dinner with the ownership of Real Madrid, we were at a restaurant in Salt Lake, and as I was walking into the dinner my 12 year old daughter Elizabeth said, ‘So how did the vote go exactly?’ and I said, ‘We got voted down again, I think we’ve reached the end,’ and she burst out in tears, and that is why the stadium got built. Because that night, sitting with Aaron Gelfrand, from our office in New York, and others, I said, ‘Let’s just have a ground breaking in the morning. As long as Real Madrid is here, let’s have a ground breaking, and that’ll put everybody on notice that we’re going to build a stadium,’ and that’s what we did.” He then went on to thank his daughter for inspiring him to build something he will “remember forever”. The fans all owe Dave a thanks for being so persistent in the building of our beautiful Rio Tinto (RioT for short). I bet the players are also happy they don’t have to play on the dreaded turf field at Rice Eccles anymore.
Checketts has sold his shares in the club to Dell Loy Hansen, who is now the sole owner of the team. Some may wonder why Dave has done all this for RSL, I know I have. His son, Spencer Checketts, tweeted out, “9 years ago, my dad informed me he was in talks with MLS to bring a soccer team to Utah. I asked him why … here’s what he said: ‘I want to build something of value for my home state. The state that I love.’” Mission accomplished, Dave. Thank you.