If one is asked to name a successful franchise in the MLS he or she will often think of the New York Red Bulls or the L.A. Galaxy. Some even think of D.C United as a very successful franchise and who can forget the Houston Dynamo’s back-to-back MLS Cup wins in 2006 and 2007 where they beat the New England Revolution on both occasions. Many will not think of Real Salt Lake though.
They were an expansion team in the 2005 season and they did not experience any instant success like many expansion teams in any sport for a matter of fact.
The first time they clinched a playoff spot was in 2008. They bounced back from a last place finish in their conference the year before by finishing 3rd in the Western Conference and getting all the way to the semi-finals.
This past Saturday they punched their ticket for the playoffs with a win over the Portland Timbers. They have participated in every post-season since that great break-out year.
They have been such a successful team in the last five years but what was the key to this?
It all started with a solid holding midfielder joining the team in 2007. Kyle Beckerman brought so much stability to the team on and off the field. The dreadlocked skipper not only made a name for himself in the league but also put RSL on the map. This is part of what lead to the team’s success.
However, this holding midfielder is not the only component that has guided the squad in the right direction. Great teams are built from the back and by “the back” I mean from the goalkeeper position. Nick Rimaudo also joined the team in 2007 and he has reassured Real Salt Lake’s back line since then. He is technically sound but he can also make some acrobatic saves that sometimes do not look physically possible.
Every good team also needs a solid center back. The center back orchestrates the game, calms the play and is there to keep a clean sheet; that’s exactly what Jaminson Olave brings to the table. The Columbian arrived on loan for the 2008 season and has remained with the club ever since. The fact the he was Defender of the Year in 2010 shows us that he really is a world class defender.
The addition of Álvaro Saborío didn’t hurt the team either. He has scored 37 goals in total since he joined the club in 2010. He even won the Newcomer of the Year award in 2010.
It is great to have all these players but without loyal fans the players can sometimes get a little demoralized. The folks of Sandy, Utah fill up Rio Tinto Stadium and bring so much energy. Even when the home team is not dominating they are not afraid to chant their team song called “believe”.
All these elements ultimately lead to Real Salt Lake’s 2009 MLS Cup win and their consistent league form over the past few years.
They have clinched the playoffs and currently sit in third but Seattle could still pass them for the final first round bye spot.
The 4th and 5th teams must play each other to accede to the conference semi-finals so this is why it is important to finish in the top three of your conference.
There are still some interesting playoff battles though. The 5th place is still up for grabs in both the Western and Eastern conference so we look forward to some exciting fall soccer.