Soccer in Utah grew exponentially in 2018, the year Real Salt Lake played its 14th Major League Soccer season and an entirely new team was brought to the Wasatch Front. The club made history on several fronts throughout the season, both on and off the field. 2018 may be one of the most notable years in the club’s history, so I wanted to highlight some of the best things the club accomplished this season in an effort to paint the picture for the direction the club is heading.
Utah Royals FC
On November 16, 2017, Utah Royals FC was announced as the National Women’s Soccer League’s newest franchise when it inherited the former FC Kansas City side just a few days earlier. RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen saw an opportunity to fulfill a dream to bring professional women’s soccer to Utah and in late-2017 that dream became a reality. Royals FC joined the Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash, North Carolina Courage, Orlando Pride, Portland Thorns FC, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, and the Washington Spirit to make up the league’s nine-team field.
URFC began its first season in the NWSL in 2018 with a roster consisting of players from the former FC Kansas City side among league, international veterans and superstars. United States Women’s National team superstars Becky Sauerbrunn, Amy Rodriguez and Christen Press joined the club for its first year while Scottish centerback Rachel Corsie and Canadian stars Diana Matheson and Desiree Scott combined to establish one of the most formidable rosters in the NWSL.
In its first season, URFC missed the NWSL playoffs by a single point on the final day of the regular season but was the only club in the league that eventual NWSL Champion North Carolina FC failed to take three points away from in 2018. In its inaugural season, URFC ranked second in attendance league-wide, to solidify the best attendance for an expansion side in league history.
Zions Bank Real Academy
On February 28, the club officially opened the doors to its state-of-the art training facility located in Herriman, Utah. Rivaling the world-class facilities of top European clubs, Zions Bank Real Academy immediately set the standard for clubs around Major League Soccer. The $78 million facility became North America’s largest free-span steel structure and the enormity of the facility has to be seen to be believed. Dell Loy Hansen was joined in the opening ceremony by local and national dignitaries, including MLS Commissioner Don Garber who said of the facility: “The moment you walk in and you see two really big soccer fields with the teams practicing on it, you’re just overwhelmed by the size and scope.”
Adjacent to the training facility is the RSL Academy High School, which opened Spring 2017 and carries a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) curriculum. Both the U-17 and U-19 RSL Academy players attend classes at the school, all while training and playing for the Academy.
Zions Bank Stadium
On April 30, Real Monarchs SLC christened its new 5,000 seat home at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah on the campus of the Zions Bank Real Academy. In the first outing at its new home, the club played to a scoreless draw with league newcomer Las Vegas Lights FC in front of 4,065 fans before moving on to post a league-best 13-2-2 home record in its first year at its new stadium.
The Monarchs also saw its all-time leader scorer, Chandler Hoffman, reach 50 career United Soccer League goals as he notched the winning strike over Sacramento Republic FC on the Zions Bank Stadium turf. In the fall, midfielder Maikel Chang registered another league milestone in a Monarchs uniform, becoming the first player in the league’s modern era to reach 30 career assists when the Monarchs faced Saint Louis FC on national television in mid-September.
Homegrowns Reign Supreme
Being a club that prides itself on cultivating players through its Academy, RSL held the highest number of minutes played by its Homegrown players in 2018. Totaling 11,536 minutes across the regular and post season, the eight Homegrown players rostered in 2018, set the standard for Homegrowns league-wide. Most notably, rookie Corey Baird earned himself the 2018 AT&T Rookie of the Year Award after scoring eight goals and assisting five times in the regular season to secure the club’s very first Rookie of the Year Award.
In 2018 RSL became the first top-tier professional sports organization in Utah to hold a PRIDE Night, marking a historic day for sports and equality in the state. On May 30, RSL hosted the Houston Dynamo – a match which RSL claimed a 2-1 victory – in an event where the club voiced its support for equality. Five RSL and Monarchs players, along with seven Royals FC players pledged their support by joining the Playing for Pride Team where they would donate money to Athlete Ally – a non-profit organization seeking to eliminate homophobia in sports – based on games played, goals, assists and during the month of June. Joining these players in donating money was the RSL Foundation, who donated over $3,000 to the cause. Real Monarchs and Utah Royals FC held its version of PRIDE Night on June 26 and 27 respectively, continuing its club-wide effort of promoting equality.
MLS Cup Playoffs
After a one-year hiatus, RSL booked its ticket to the 2018 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs for the ninth time in its last 11 seasons. RSL finished as the sixth seed in the Western Conference to secure a place in the knockout round of the playoffs where it faced league newcomer LAFC at Banc of California Stadium. The Utah club knocked off LAFC in dramatic fashion, beating the hosts 3-2 to move into the Western Conference Semifinals against Sporting Kansas City. RSL drew 1-1 with Sporting in the first leg at Rio Tinto Stadium and in the second leg at Children’s Mercy Park, nearly eliminated SKC to move onto the conference final. RSL’s playoff appearance record remains one of the best in the league with the club landing in the playoffs a total of nine times in its 14-year history.
On September 1, RSL hosted the star-studded LA Galaxy at Rio Tinto Stadium in a match that held severe playoff implications. The Galaxy arrived in Sandy with world superstars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic but RSL remained unphased. After conceding early, RSL went on to trounce the Galaxy by an emphatic 6-2 scoreline in front of 21,363 fans, the largest crowd in Rio Tinto Stadium history.