Being a staple in the community means more than bringing thousands of fans to the stadium on a weekend to witness a 90-minute soccer match. For Real Salt Lake and its players, connecting with those fans within its community through ways of strengthening a household or offering perspective through education is more important than a simple common interest.
For Marcelo Silva and Pablo Ruiz engraining themselves within a community provides a far deeper meaning to the club being representative of all of those in Utah.
“We feel very grateful for the opportunity through the RSL Community to be able to connect and help those within our community,” Silva said through an interpreter. “It’s a joint effort between our club and our community. They support us and we support them. That’s how you grow together.”
Tough times arose for most in 2020 and that was recognized by all the players at RSL. In December, Silva and Ruiz visited Rancho Markets in Millcreek to surprise unsuspecting families by purchasing their groceries. In January, Silva met students at Midvale Elementary School to pass out bags of food and gift RSL gear to them.
“The opportunity to step next to people and be in their world for even just a little bit meant a lot to us,” Silva reflected. “Hearing about their plight, their struggles and their lives impacted me. From filling their cars with groceries to laughing and joking with the children made me feel more connected to the community in which we live.”
As professional athletes, those on the RSL roster inherently reside on a platform that most desire to be, but for the players, the platform means more than just a job, it means being a positive example to everyone.
Being closely involved within a community is also a two-way street. While visits to a grocery store or school can brighten someone’s day or provide a chance for someone to meet a hero, it also provides motivation for the players to perform and represent the club’s community well.
“Community work affects anyone who partakes, even us. Coming from Argentina I see similar struggles from there to here,” Ruiz said. “There are people within our own community who fight for their lives and their well-being and a lot of times as players we focus strictly on fighting for a win, the next goal, for glory. But there are many things more important than things on the field, like people’s lives. That, in a way, gives us motivation to continue working hard.”
Added Silva, “It makes a difference, I think, when the players put in the work off the field instead of staff members at the club. For people to see a professional athlete that cares about your well-being goes a long way. When people see the players supporting them it deepens the fan base and the love for the game and helps the team. In a way it’s a circle where everyone is helping everyone.”
Both players credit the RSL Community for providing opportunities for the players to do good things all around Utah and beyond. Regardless of how big or small serving a community may feel, every step is important to create better ways of life and both players feel as though the RSL Foundation deploys a far greater mission than just supporting the team in the hopes of winning games.
“There’s a lot to learn by giving yourself to a community,” Ruiz emphasized. “It was important to me to put in my grain of sand to help build up those around me. We’re grateful to have the chance to attend and help in the events that the RSL Community facilitates nearly every day.”