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RSL win would be potential game-changer for MLS

Published April 26, 2011 2:18 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

An entire generation of adults has grown up without remembering a time when Major League Soccer did not exist.

Now in its 16th season, MLS is fueled by these young adults who view the sports landscape much differently than their parents.

And with that has come an expectation of success.

Real Salt Lake is on the verge of winning the CONCACAF Champions League title — and that is what matters, not getting close.

"We haven't had that Lake Placid moment like the 1980 U.S. hockey team — but that's the opportunity I think we have," said Garth Lagerwey, Real Salt Lake's general manager and senior vice president. "We have an event of that scale that can put the world on notice."

Lagerwey makes the case Wednesday's game is not only the biggest in the state's soccer history, but one of the biggest sports events ever in Utah. It's also a potentially "historic" national event, he said, pointing toward a number of solid showings over the years that have been short of victory for the U.S. Soccer team.

"We've talked to our fans going back two years now," Lagerwey said. "The feedback we get from them is that they want trophies, not more friendlies. We have got to win. We are well past the point of moral victories."

Indeed, the game is so important to Major League Soccer itself that virtually the entire MLS national staff is flying in from New York to support RSL.

"Salt Lake is an organization that's very focused," said league president Mark Abbott. "What they've accomplished is a signal of our integration into the international soccer community, which is important, but it also shows just how far we have come.

"Their mantra that the team is the star resonates with them, works for them, but let's not forget they have some great players — players I would argue who are stars."

Lagerwey views a victory Wednesday as having the ability to completely alter RSL's place in Utah.

"It's a game-changer," he said. "It's the potential tipping point in selling out our building every night."

Placing the outcome in a larger context, he said the fans the league needs to win over are those who continue to rue the quality of MLS play.

"We need fans of soccer in the United States to pay attention to our league. Right now they don't," Lagerwey said.

"A lot of those people are going to deny, deny, deny and say they'd rather get up on Saturday morning and watch the EPL and that American soccer sucks.

"I just don't believe that. I think we get more respect outside our country than we do inside it and I think we'll win over a whole bunch of fans who simply can't ignore us if we're able to win and achieve consistent success. We cannot expect to be given respect. We have to earn it."

If RSL pulls off the win, it advances to the 10-day, six-team FIFA Club World Cup, taking place in December in Japan. Featuring the winner of the European tournament among others from the world's soccer elite, it will be heady company for a team from Salt Lake City. But Abbott reflects a growing confidence within the league, a pervasive why-not attitude.

"[RSL] will have a chance," Abbott said. "It will be a challenge, but every team that goes there has a chance and has a challenge."

manastasi@sltrib.com —

Are you going to the game?

The Tribune will post crowd shots from the game, and we invite fans to email their own to myphotos@sltrib.com. Then visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/saltlaketribune to tag yourself and your friends in the RSL photo galleries.






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