Real Salt Lake has come a long way from dark days of 2005

Most of Real Salt Lake’s front office staff from its 2005 inaugural season have moved on to different things. Among them is Chris Keeney, who was the director of ticket sales in that first year.
Keeney is now in Houston, and he emailed me this past weekend and said, “Did you ever think in 2005 that the Deseret News would send you to Mexico to see a soccer game?”
In my mind, the real question was did I think Real Salt Lake would ever be good enough to play in Mexico? Definitely not.
Yet here I am, in Monterrey preparing to see RSL take on the Rayados (the striped ones) in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League this Wednesday.
Having been on the beat since the beginning, and seeing the gradual progression of the team since Jason Kreis took over in 2007, it’s not necessarily surprising to see Real Salt Lake enjoying so much success. Back in 2005, however, nobody could’ve ever foreseen such great things.
RSL finished that season with a 5-22-5 record, including an 0-11-1 record in the final two and half months.
I was in the press box for all 12 games, and here are a few quotes that stand out from those dark days in franchise history.
“We quit,” said John Ellinger after his team’s 5-1 loss at RFK Stadium on Aug. 31, the team’s fourth straight loss.
Eddie Pope responded with, “I know I didn’t quit. I think in the second half there wasn’t one aspect of the game I think we did correctly. I’m sure from the coaches’ standpoint it looks like the team is quitting.”
Following a 2-0 loss at Colorado on Sept. 21, Ellinger seemed as frustrated as ever.
“We’re not playing poorly. Again, it’s the fourth time in five games we’ve played well enough we could’ve won a game, but we just haven’t won,” said Ellinger. “What’s been going on most of the year is we’re finding ways to lose games.”
In a season-ending 1-0 home loss to Colorado, Clint Mathis summed up the season saying, “It seems we haven’t been getting any breaks at all this year, which is tough. I think this game epitomizes the season.”
A Real Salt Lake fan recently posted on Twitter, “There was some value added from the lean, painful years. Strong core fan base.”
Those fans will remember well the team’s 557-minute scoreless streak that Jamie Watson finally capped with a goal in a 1-1 tie against Los Angeles.
It’s hard to believe that six years later the team is on the doorstep of being crowned the best team in North America.
For guys who were there from the beginning, guys like Keeney, seeing RSL in the Champions League final must be a surreal experience.

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