Utah Jazz: Players not too familiar with Utah's other pro team
A few days had passed since Real Salt Lake earned a spot in the MLS Cup, but forgive the other professional athletes in town if the soccer club's upcoming championship showdown was fresh news to them.
They're a bit more tuned in to another sport with a round ball.
For one, point guard Deron Williams said his mind has been on other things — mostly basketball and a medical situation with his daughter.
Rookie Wesley Matthews had no clue, either, even though the former all-division high school soccer player grew up a fan of the Chicago Fire — the team RSL beat in the Eastern Conference Finals last Saturday, of course.
"That's cool. ... That's what's up," Matthews said, smiling, when informed that his beloved Fire had lost to RSL in a shootout. "Guess I'm a Real Salt Lake fan."
So, soccer savants Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko, who are you picking to win: RSL or L.A.?
"Are they playing?" Okur asked in sincerity.
Hard to believe after how many scenarios had to fall into place for Real to even sneak into the playoffs — not to mention the fact they had to beat the defending champions in the first round and get by a talented Fire team on the road — but, yep, they sure are.
"Really?" Kirilenko asked. "In the final?"
Wouldn't lie about something like this. Heck, it's even on ESPN this Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
No offense, local soccer fans, but Utah's European basketball players — all followers of the other football — apparently skipped over the part of the Sports section that elaborated about RSL's title tilt with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
"I've got to think about more basketball right now," smiled Okur.
They were intrigued when informed about Real's success, though.
"Here?" Okur and Kirilenko asked about the final's whereabouts — both almost seeming to be tempted to attend if possible.
Sorry. It's in Seattle.
"I wish," Okur said, "the game was over here."
"Well, good luck," Kirilenko said when told it'll be in the soccer-crazed Northwest. "Bring the first title."
Okur, who has been to an RSL game, was especially curious about the game's specifics.
"It's gonna be just one game?" the Turkish athlete asked. "This is, like, whoever wins, win a trophy?"
Yep, winner takes all — in the States, at least. Victor gets to sip the sweet nectar of victory from the MLS Cup.
"I wish best luck for Real," Okur said. "You know, I'm a big soccer fan. Hopefully, they're going to win and bring a trophy here to Salt Lake."
Coach Jerry Sloan also sends his best wishes to Jason Kreis' club.
"I hope Salt Lake wins," Sloan said.
Though he doesn't follow the pro ranks, Sloan is actually a fan of the "beautiful game."
"I've watched my grandkids play a time or two," Sloan said. "Yeah, it's really exciting to watch it. I think soccer's a good sport."
So, too, does Kirilenko — well, as long as it's the European variety. He is an avid fan of the EPL and follows soccer in his native Russia, Italy and Spain.
"The only name I know in America is Beckham," Kirilenko said, speaking of David, not Victoria presumably. "I can tell you top 10 teams in English Premiere League all by names."
Ukrainian Kyrylo Fesenko didn't have much of an opinion about this country's soccer showcase.
"No," he said when asked if he keeps track of the sport here. "There is not such a thing as American soccer."
Fesenko did, however, claim to have some Real Salt Lake knowledge.
"There's a Ukrainian guy," he said, "that plays for the team."
Guess Fesenko isn't a Real expert or a close friend of his compatriot, after all.
The Ukrainian soccer standout he referred to — one Dema Kovalenko — is indeed playing for all the soccer marbles in America. But Kovalenko now plays for the Galaxy, not RSL.
Despite his unfamiliarity with RSL's situation — something he shares with his teammates — Matthews wishes he could attend.
"But," the Jazz rookie added, "the time is kind of off, you know?"
So it would seem.
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