When Bobby Wood signed with Real Salt Lake, he cited the family atmosphere with the club as a primary reason for wanting to make the move from Germany, where he had played for 14 years before making the move to MLS.
On Saturday, he brought that family environment to the 17,500 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium and put it on display for the world to see in photos and videos that have become widely circulated. When he smacked a cross from Jonathan Menendez past Austin FC goalkeeper Brad Stuver and into the net for a first-half goal, he immediately ran to the southwest corner and kissed his daughter Ella. It was her first time seeing her father play in person and she was among four generations of family in the stands watching Wood help RSL to a 1-0 victory.
“I really wanted to score for my daughter because it was her first game seeing me live,” Wood told MLSsoccer.com’s Extra Time Radio.
The celebration was as serendipitous as it was spontaneous.
His family – his grandmother Kiyomi Kurokawa, his mother Yoko Kurokawa, his wife Ditte Wood and two daughters Ella and Nora Wood – were in the front row of the southwest corner of the stadium. He scored the game’s lone goal in the south goal, setting him up for an easy path to his family. Without prior planning, Wood reacted in the moment and did the first thing that came to mind in an emotional moment, as all five family members were at a game at Rio Tinto Stadium for the first time.
“It just kind of happened. It was a reaction,” he said. “I saw them and just took advantage of them being right there by the field.”
His grandmother made the trip from Japan while his mother flew in from California, joining his wife and daughters, who were delayed in their arrival after Nora’s birth in Denmark in June. Wood typically saw his family only once a year during the off-season while he was playing abroad so welcoming them to his new home stadium was a moment of comfort for the 28-year-old forward.
After spending the first few months of his time with RSL alone in his house, Wood now has the comfort of having his family with him in Utah. Not coincidentally, he has continued to gain more comfort and cohesion with his teammates and his production and effectiveness on the field has increased.
That has been evident on the scoreboard, too. In his last three home starts, RSL has three shutout victories over Vancouver, Colorado and Austin. And in his last two home starts, Wood has two goals.
It has all been part of his acclimation process and he credits a close locker room with his growing comfort.
“The team has been amazing. The coaching staff has been amazing,” he said. “It’s a tight-knit group and that’s exactly what I wanted to come to. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to come to this club.”
Prior to signing with Real Salt Lake, Wood heard about the natural family atmosphere in the locker room and around the club from his former Union Berlin teammate Damir Kreilach. That club ethos was confirmed when he met with Head Coach Freddy Juarez and his time with RSL has only served as further confirmation of the culture being built at Real Salt Lake.
“When I had a talk with him, he was one of the main reasons why I came. He made me feel comfortable. I haven’t had that coach-player bond in a while,” Wood said. “It’s been very nice to have that type of coach at this club and I think the team feels the same way. It shows when we fight. That shows a lot within the squad.”
Real Salt Lake hosts Houston Dynamo FC on Wednesday at 8 p.m. MT at Rio Tinto Stadium. Tickets are available at RSL.com/tickets.