It just appeared out of the sky. At least that’s how Real Salt Lake head groundskeeper Dan Farnes remembers it. RSL were tied 1-1 with the Los Angeles Galaxy during a game in which Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was due to score his 500th goal. 

“Besides what happened, one of the biggest things I remember in the stands was that there were a ton of neutral fans there to see a bit of history,” said RSL supporters liaison, Zac Barnes.

Brett Call, the Practice Facility Supervisor at the Zions Bank Real Academy admitted that witnessing history might’ve been a reason he was in attendance that fateful night as well. “The only reason I was there was because I wanted to see Zlatan play,” said Call. 

Call ended up being in the center of a different kind of history that night. What followed landed in the hearts of supporters, staff members and players alike. However on September 1, 2018, it landed in the middle of Rio Tinto Stadium.

RSL v LA- Duck

Call and Farnes were sitting in the northside of the stadium behind the goal when Farnes spotted something in the sky. 

“We just kind of looked up and saw something kind of enter the light of the stadium and it circled the field a couple times,” said Farnes. 

What was circling the field then landed in front of the home bench. It became quickly apparent that RSL’s arial visitor was none other than one very lost and confused duck.

“When it landed on the ground, we actually cheered thinking at the time it would just fly away,” said Call. “But it did not.”

That’s when the grounds crew realized they might have a situation on their hands.

“The game was going on and Brett and I kind of looked at each other like, well, what do we do?” said Farnes.

“We have no idea. We kind of run over to the side just kind of waiting for a stoppage of play to go out and try and corral it. The referee had no idea what to do.”

On the field, the players were just as confused on what was transpiring.

“After a little bit of trying to figure out what was going on, I heard the fans start cheering and then Albert [Rusnák] just started running in the squat position with his hands out and next thing I know he is like shepherding a duck,” said Nick Besler.

While the former RSL midfielder tried to take action into his own hands, the crowd continued to cheer as the duck continued its romp across the grass.

“Everyone's chasing it around and it keeps flying off and landing somewhere else so it was just hilarious to watch,” said Barnes, who had a great view of the spectacle in the stands.

“It would get off the field and then people would be like, okay finally, and then it’d fly to another spot of the field somewhere else.”

As the saga dragged on, the two grounds crewmen knew they needed to act quickly.

“Coach Petke is yelling at us to get it off the field or do something and we just tell him, we have no idea how to handle this situation,” said Farnes.

“The ref finally blew his whistle and Brett and I ran out on the field. Ducks are a lot faster than you think.”

“The stadium was sold out, so it was just craziness trying to corral this duck. We tried to get behind it, shoo it off and it would just fly away. Finally we got it so it was more like the southwest corner of the field. At first, it was just Brett and I, and then there were a couple other guys on my crew that were not helping us because they were laughing so hard.”

“I finally yelled at them to get out on the field to help us. So they came out and corralled it down to that corner. Rusnák tried to catch it. He almost did. And then it ran behind field boards. I kind of blocked its way and Brett ran up and grabbed it.”

“I’ll be honest, I had never caught a duck before in my life,” said Call.

RSL v LA- Duck-7

After Call and Farnes escorted their new feathered friend out of the stadium to the applause of a sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium, they took it to the little canal beyond the southside of the stadium where it was released and swam away. 

Back inside the stadium, RSL would go on to score before half to make it 2-1. After the break they’d score again, and again and again and again, finishing the match 6-2 and keeping Zlatan from scoring his 500th goal.

Instead of what they may have expected, the fans witnessed a different kind of history. RSL became the first team in Major League Soccer history to score six goals in back-to-back matches after defeating the Colorado Rapids 6-0 the week before. The “Duck” game was born.

Flashforward to Spring 2022 and Jennifer Rosa, the RSL Team Store Manager, was pitching an idea to the RSL Family Initiative board. 

Her plan was to create unique pins each month in which the sales would benefit a different charity. Her proposal was then approval and for July her desired charity was the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in Montana after visiting Yellowstone on vacation. She wanted the pin to feature an animal that was close to the hearts of RSL fans, so naturally she landed on the lucky duck of RSL. 

Throughout July, fans can purchase the Wild for Wildlife duck pin on the RSL Team Store or on their website. Five dollars of each pin will go towards the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.

Although we’re rapidly approaching the five-year anniversary of the “duck game,” its impact is still being felt throughout the RSL community. The duck that landed in the RioT that night was more than just a meme or memory, it’s a part of Real Salt Lake history.

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