Real Salt Lake Profile
|Major Honours||MLS Cup (1)|
Real were the first American club to reach the CONCACAF Champions League final.
Real Salt Lake entered MLS as the 12th team in the league, with their first game taking place in 2005. They were announced as an expansion team in July 2004, with SCP Worldwide as the owners. Former NBA executive Dave Checketts was the founder of SCP Worldwide and the face of the franchise. The team began to play at Rice-Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah.
The name comes from global soccer tradition as Real means royal in Spanish and their founders were admirers of Real Madrid. Salt Lake SC and Union SLC were also considered. The official team colours are claret red, cobalt blue and real gold. The team's nickname is the Claret and Cobalt. The badge is a shield with the letters R S and L in the middle in red and gold. There is a crown on top of the R with a soccer ball below the letters.
RSL play at Rio Tinto Stadium, a soccer-specific arena in Sandy, Utah. The stadium sits 4,450 feet above sea level and has a capacity of 20,213 fans. The stadium hosted the 2009 MLS All-Star Game against Everton as well as FIFA World Cup qualifiers, CONCACAF Gold Cup games and USWNT games. The NWSL's Utah Royals played at Rio Tinto until moving to Kansas City after the 2020 season.
The Claret and Cobalt won the 2009 MLS Cup and followed this up by finishing second in the Supporters' Shield race in 2010. They were the first American club to reach the CONCACAF Champions League final, but lost the showpiece game in 2011. They also finished as runners-up in the 2013 US Open Cup and the 2013 MLS Cup.
The John Ellinger era
Real Salt Lake hired John Ellinger to be their first manager and Jason Kreis was acquired from the Dallas Burn as their first player. Ellinger had previously managed the US U-17 team. The team also added USMNT defender Eddie Pope and midfielder Clint Mathis.
RSL made their debut on April 2, 2005, at Giants Stadium against the NY/NJ MetroStars. The game ended in a 0-0 draw. Kreis scored the first goal in team history in a 3-1 away defeat to LA Galaxy. Their home debut was on April 16 at Rice-Eccles Stadium with 25,287 fans in attendance as RSL beat local rivals Colorado Rapids 1-0. Later in the season, they set an MLS record by going 557 minutes without scoring a goal. A 10-game losing streak ended with a 2-2 draw at San Jose and RSL finished the season with a record of five wins, five draws and 22 losses.
Real Salt Lake started the 2006 season with one draw and five losses in their first six games after adding Jeff Cunningham to the squad. They set another MLS record with 18 straight winless matches and missed the play-offs with just 10 wins, nine draws and 13 losses over the season. They hosted Real Madrid in a friendly in front of 45,511 fans and lost 2-0 on August 12, the same day they broke ground for their new stadium.
Real Salt Lake added Panamanian international Luis Tejada and goalkeeper Nick Rimando, as well as midfielder Chris Klein, before the 2007 season. After starting the campaign with a draw, RSL lost three straight games and Ellinger was fired while general manager Steve Pastorino resigned.
Jason Kreis retires to manage the club
With Ellinger fired, RSL hired Jason Kreis as their new manager and he immediately retired from playing to take the job. Garth Lagerwey was hired as the new GM, and the duo worked on reshaping the roster as they traded Cunningham to Toronto for Alecko Eskandarian and sent Chris Klein to the Galaxy for Robbie Findley. Despite all this, the 2007 season finished with just six wins and no play-off appearance.
Lagerwey brought in USMNT defender Kyle Beckerman before the 2008 season, along with Javier Morales and Nat Borchers. After just one win in their first six games, RSL got going in the middle of the season and played 12 in a row at home without a loss. They also moved into Rio Tinto Stadium on October 9 for their final two home games of the season, a draw and a win. In the last game of the year, RSL went to Colorado needing a positive result to make the play-offs and they drew 1-1 to finish fourth.
Yura Movsisyan scored in the 90th minute of the first play-off game in team history as RSL won the first leg at home 1-0 against Chivas USA. They drew in California 2-2 in the second leg and advanced 3-2 on aggregate. In the Western Conference finals, RSL lost at home to New York Red Bulls 1-0.
In 2009, Real Salt Lake won their first three home games and lost at home just once all season. Their away form was a different story though, with 11 losses and only two wins. They went into the final game needing to win and they beat Colorado Rapids 3-0 to earn the final play-off spot. They started the play-offs with a 1-0 home win over Columbus Crew as Findley scored in the 88th minute. RSL went to Ohio for the second leg and won 3-2 to advance to the Western Conference final. The game in Chicago was goalless after 120 minutes and went to penalties. Tied after five rounds, both teams missed in the sixth round and Ned Grabavoy gave RSL a win in the seventh. The MLS Cup final took place in Seattle against LA Galaxy and Findley scored to tie the game in the 64th minute. The resultant penalty shootout again went seven rounds before Nick Rimando (pictured) made a save and Robbie Russell scored to give RSL the title.
Forward Alvaro Saborio joined the side on loan from Bristol City for the 2010 season and led the team with 18 goals. RSL didn't lose at home in any competition all season and didn't lose in MLS at all after July 17. They clinched a play-off spot with a 2-1 victory at New England on October 2. They finished second in the regular season to LA Galaxy by three points. RSL lost the first leg of the play-offs in Dallas 2-1 before drawing at home 1-1 a week later. This saw Dallas advance on aggregate.
In the CONCACAF Champions League, RSL won four games, drew one and lost one to top their group in the fall. The quarter-finals took place in February 2011 and RSL won the second leg at home 4-1 over Columbus Crew to advance. In the semi-finals in March, they beat Saprissa 2-0 at home in the first leg and advanced despite a 2-1 loss in Costa Rica in April. The Champions League final opened with a 2-2 draw in Monterrey, Mexico, on April 20. A week later, 20,738 fans showed up at Rio Tinto for the return leg. Monterrey scored in the 45th minute and held off RSL for a 1-0 win to claim the Champions League title.
Their unbeaten home streak in MLS ended at 29 games in May 2011 with a loss to Seattle. Despite this, Real Salt Lake finished third in the West in 2011 with 15 wins, making the play-offs in the process. They beat Seattle in the first round 3-2 on aggregate as Saborio scored twice in the home leg. In the conference finals, they lost to the Galaxy 3-1 but qualified for the 2012/13 Champions League.
RSL were eliminated from the Champions League in the group stage and they finished second in the West in the MLS regular season of 2012. In the first round, they played Seattle for the second year in a row, but this time the Sounders advanced 1-0 on aggregate.
Checketts sold his stake in the team to minority owner Dell Loy Hansen in 2013, and the team also made on-the-field changes by trading Will Johnson, Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola. They brought back Findley, who had spent two seasons in England with Nottingham Forest, and added allocation money. In the US Open Cup, they enjoyed their best-ever run with four straight wins. In the final, they hosted D.C. United and were stunned by a rare 1-0 home defeat to a United team that had finished dead last in MLS.
In the 2013 MLS season, RSL lost at home three times and made the play-offs by finishing third in the West. In the first round, they beat LA Galaxy 2-1 on aggregate as the second leg went to extra time. RSL won both legs of the conference final against Portland and advanced 5-2 on aggregate. The MLS Cup final was in Kansas City and RSL drew 1-1 against Sporting KC. The subsequent epic penalty shootout went 10 rounds before SKC won 7-6.
Jeff Cassar promoted as Kreis heads to New York
Kreis left Real Salt Lake after the 2013 season to become the first manager of expansion team New York City FC. Jeff Cassar, a long-time RSL assistant, took over as manager. Even with the coaching change, RSL returned to the play-offs in 2014 with a third-place finish in the West. They exited the play-offs in the first round after a 5-0 loss at LA Galaxy.
The 2015 season was the first year since 2007 in which Real Salt Lake missed the play-offs. With 11 wins, 15 losses and eight draws, they finished ninth in the West and 16th overall in MLS. They made it to the semi-finals of the US Open Cup before losing 3-1 at Sporting Kansas City. In the Champions League, they won three games and drew a fourth in the group stage, progressing to the knockout round.
The 2016 season started with the Champions League quarter-finals against UANL. Real Salt Lake lost the first leg in Mexico 2-0 before drawing at home 1-1, thus being eliminated on aggregate. In the 2016 MLS, Joao Plata scored 13 goals and had 11 assists as RSL finished sixth in the West and returned to the play-offs. In the knockout round, they again faced LA Galaxy on the road and lost 3-1.
After starting the 2017 season with a 0-0 draw, a 2-0 loss and a 2-1 loss, RSL fired Cassar on March 20. Daryl Shore then managed the team on an interim basis, picking up a draw and a defeat.
RSL, 2017 and beyond
Mike Petke was hired as manager on April 3, 2017, after coaching the RSL Monarchs in the USL. The change didn't help as RSL lost 15 games over the season and missed the play-offs with an eighth-place finish in the West.
Midfielder Damir Kreilach joined the team from Union Berlin in 2018 on a Designated Player contract. He replaced Yura Movsisyan, who left for Sweden on loan. Kreilach had an immediate impact with a team-best 15 goals and nine assists. Real Salt Lake finished sixth in the West and grabbed the final play-off spot. They went on the road in the knockout round and beat Los Angeles FC 3-2 as Kreilach scored twice. In the semi-finals, they tied against Sporting Kansas City 1-1 at home in the first leg before falling 4-2 on the road in the second leg.
Forward Sam Johnson came in as a Designated Player in 2019. During the 2019 Leagues Cup, RSL lost to Mexican side UANL 1-0 in the quarter-finals on July 24 and Petke was fired after an altercation with match officials. He had originally been suspended by the team and league but was eventually dismissed on August 11, with Freddy Juarez named interim manager. RSL made the play-offs and won the opening game at home over Portland 2-1. They lost in the conference semi-finals 2-0 to Seattle Sounders after which long-time goalkeeper Nick Rimando retired.
Zac MacMath was brought in for the 2020 season to replace Rimando, and RSL also signed Giuseppe Rossi and Justin Meram. COVID-19 suspended the regular season and most MLS teams went to Orlando for the MLS is Back Tournament in July. RSL made it through the group stage before falling to San Jose 5-2 in the last 16. In the MLS regular season, they won just five of 22 games and missed the play-offs. Kreilach led the team with nine goals.
Real Salt Lake's rivals
Real Salt Lake's main rivals are the Colorado Rapids. The teams compete for the Rocky Mountain Cup, which goes to the team with the better head-to-head record each season. Colorado Rapids won the cup for the first two years, but RSL kept the trophy from 2007-12. They won it again for four straight seasons from 2016-19 before Colorado Rapids reclaimed the cup in 2020. Overall, RSL have won the cup in 11 of 16 seasons, and they hold a head-to-head lead of 24-17 with 11 draws in MLS play.
The teams have never met in the MLS Cup play-offs, while Colorado Rapids won both of the US Open Cup matches they have played, in 2006 and 2007.
Real Salt Lake's top players
Alvaro Saborio scored a team record 63 goals in 123 games between 2010 and 2015. Javier Morales scored 49 goals from 2007 to 2016 and Joao Plata netted 46 times between 2013 and 2019. Saborio also holds the single-season record with 17 goals in 2012.
Morales holds the team record with 81 assists, ranking ahead of Plata (33), Kyle Beckerman (29), Albert Rusnak (22) and Andy Williams (19).
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando amassed 118 clean sheets in 369 appearances between 2007 and 2019. He holds the team record for appearances, just ahead of Beckerman (350), who retired after the 2020 season. Chris Wingert (247), Tony Beltran (245), Morales (240) and Nat Borchers (205) have also made at least 200 appearances.
In addition to Saborio, Morales, Beckerman, Plata and Rusnak, RSL have had six other Designated Players. Jason Ramirez is currently in that role with Rusnak. Sam Johnson and Jefferson Savarino were the most recent Designated Players, while Sebastian Jaime, Juan Manuel Martinez and Yura Movsisyan have also been on D.P. contracts.