Salt Lake's newest heroes.
Since its founding in 2005, Real Salt Lake has had a lot of ups and downs. The first couple years the team had virtually no confidence in themselves, even fully expecting to lose their games. Prior to all that, there was a lot of criticism in the community over how to fund the building of a new stadium for the team and whether or not soccer was worth the finances involved. Some argued that it would help the economy of the Salt Lake area, which may or may not be true. But the often overlooked benefit of having a professional soccer team in Sandy is the unique way it brings the community together.
I must confess, I was not a Real Salt Lake fan or even a soccer fan in general until roughly six months ago. My reasoning was pretty much the same as any other opponent of the sport: it is low-scoring and lacks action. All that changed the first time I went to an RSL game — and the more I experience it, the more I like it.
One of the first things that intrigued me was the supporter sections. I could see how passionate they were about their club. They chant, play their drums, throw confetti, wave their flags and heckle the other team from start to finish literally willing the club to victory. There are five supporter groups throughout the system that are largely self-organized: Section 26, the Loyalists, the FCB, the RCB, and La Barra Real. All of these groups are encouraged by the Real Salt Lake organization to continue their passionate support through discounted season tickets. These groups alone have raised the bar for enthusiasm and continue to grow. While all of these groups are impressive, the group that stands out most is La Barra Real.
La Barra Real consists largely of first and second generation Americans. They are mostly Latinos from countries such as Mexico, Argentina, El Salvador and Colombia. There are also people from Spain, as well as a decent number of Anglos. Their group is made up of people ranging from three to sixty years of age. People of various backgrounds come together to energize the team and the crowd alike. Every so often, the better part of those in attendance join in on the grassroots chants. The leader of La Barra, Luis Castro, explains, “The only thing we ask is that you enjoy the game, and sing, and jump with us. You don’t have to speak Spanish. Just have fun. We welcome anyone.”
I can personally attest to that statement. During halftime of the last game I attended, I heard the chants make their way closer and closer until they were behind my section. I went up to see what was going on and found La Barra and others banging their drums, jumping around and chanting to pump up the loyal fans and newcomers. There was a crowd forming around them clapping and chanting as well. You could tell that people were hesitant to get into the mosh pit, myself included. After a minute of observing, one of the La Barra members apparently could see my desire to be a part of it all. He approached me and invited me in. Before I knew it, I was jumping around and chanting right along with them. The group came together in the center and starting circling in one big embrace. I did my part and tried to make a couple of 12-year-olds, who were just joining the fun, feel welcome.
Not everybody feels so comfortable joining in on the chants though, so the supporter groups sometimes have to get creative. One group changed the words of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” to “If You Want Real to Score, Clap Your Hands,” getting even soccer moms to join in on the clapping part. Real Salt Lake brings together the community in a way that other sports do not.
That’s not the only thing to like about Real Salt Lake. Their coach has been quoted as saying he does not sleep when they lose or, if he does get any sleep, wakes up in a cold sweat. Unlike the exorbitant salaries of other mainstay sports athletes in the U.S., the players’ salaries range from $20,000 to $160,000. The club’s top scorer, Robbie Findley, had as many goals in the regular season as did last year’s Major League Soccer MVP — and Findley’s only in his second year.
The team has overcome many obstacles and made the playoffs for the first time in the existence of the franchise last year. This year, they are back in the playoffs again against all odds. You know the cliche: success breeds success, and the fans and their passion have just as much to do with that as the team does. We have a special opportunity here in the Salt Lake area. We have a chance to be a part of a club taking root in the community while it is still young.
Randal Serr is a liberal political columnist for Rhombus. He is also dedicated Real Salt Lake fan.