Last week, Salt Lake City's new Major League Soccer team - yet unnamed - announced its general manager, Steve Pastorino.
The 35-year-old Northwestern graduate, who was an assistant GM with the Chicago Fire, has a big job ahead of himself. With the season beginning in April, Pastorino must build an entire franchise infrastructure and a team. Pastorino met with reporters and editors of The Tribune.
Q Why is Utah the right place for a Major League Soccer expansion team?
Pastorino: Salt Lake City is a soccer-loving market with ethnic and family demographics that match the MLS profile. There is interest from the civic and corporate community to build a "soccer-specific stadium" - and a committed local owner in Dave Checketts.
Q How can an MLS team survive in Utah long-term when a WNBA team, with the backing of the NBA, could not?
Pastorino: I don't think there is any valid comparison. MLS has thrived for nine years in the face of a very crowded sports landscape. MLS has proven it has a built-in fan base and a history of creating successful, family-friendly, affordable entertainment.
Q What can people expect on opening day of the 2005 season?
Pastorino: As fans file into Rice-Eccles Stadium for the first time in April, they will be impressed by the size of the crowd; by the enthusiasm of their fellow fans; and by the diversity of the audience. There will be something for everyone, the kid-friendly "Soccer Celebration," music that reflects the international scope of our game, affordable food and drink, lots of colorful jerseys and scarves, and two teams warming up that feature the most talented assembly of players they have ever seen in Utah. It will also be 70 degrees and sunny [smiling].
Q Will a Utah family be able to afford attending an MLS soccer match?
Pastorino: Without a doubt. Individual ticket prices will likely start at 0 - and we're planning special family sections, group rates, youth soccer discounts, food packages and much more.
Q Why are you the right person for the general manager's position?
Pastorino: I bring 13 years of sports marketing experience to Salt Lake City. No one will work harder to develop the game in this area, to give back to the community and to set an example of leadership so this team can be successful. I also think I have the right disposition for this market - down-to-earth, hard-working and very fan-friendly.
Q Dave Checketts promised announcements on the team's head coach, name and logo by the end of August. Are the team's preparations for the 2005 season seriously delayed?
Pastorino: No. All of us at Utah Soccer are eager to get started, but any start-up is a learning experience and you can't always predict how long announcements will take. I'm confident we will have several announcements before the end of the MLS season. Also, for comparison, the Fire's name and logo were introduced on Oct. 8, 1997, and [coach] Bob Bradley wasn't introduced until Oct. 30. That team won MLS Cup in 1998.
QWhat qualities will the head coach have?
Pastorino: Our coach will be an outstanding talent evaluator. He will be able to assemble and manage a roster of professionals. He will also be an ambassador for the club in the community.
Q What do you think of the name possibilities (Alliance, Highlanders, Glory and Real) that have been proposed?
Pastorino: Personally, I'm not a fan of Glory. And I don't think that we're going to go the route of a team name comprised of the city (or state) followed by a "mascot/nickname" i.e., Kansas City Wizards or Utah Jazz. I like names like Alliance and/or Real that acknowledge or reference some of the history and traditions of soccer. The name hasn't been finalized in part because we know how important it is to have a name that will come to be synonymous with the team for generations.
Q What type of location would be ideal for the team's soccer-specific stadium?
Pastorino: The Galaxy, Crew, Fire, MetroStars and Rapids have built (or plan) stadiums in suburbs - but I love the idea of an urban stadium. Downtown Salt Lake has the convention center, the Delta Center, the Temple, restaurants, shopping, etc. It's accessible by TRAX, but it's also easily accessible by car and features ample parking. Ultimately though, any community that chooses to make a stadium a centerpiece of economic development, with appropriate civic and corporate support, will merit consideration.
Q What kind of player would be ideal for the Salt Lake City team?
Pastorino: Hard-working, well-conditioned players who are also solid citizens off the field. Examples include players like Chris Armas, Chris Henderson, Mark Chung, Jason Kreis - whose long careers in MLS are a testament to these qualities.
Q What kind of relationship will the team have with the Utah Blitzz?
Pastorino: We will be supportive of any soccer organization in the region that is committed to growing the game and giving opportunities to young players. The Blitzz certainly fits these criteria. I have not met with them personally, but I know that Dean Howes has had discussions about our relationship with them.