KANSAS CITY — True to the tradition of soccer zealots everywhere, Real Salt Lake’s fan base made news for being naughty last week. That’s not unusual in Barcelona or Liverpool, but Salt Lake?
It’s better known for its church choir.
But it’s also true that RSL’s fans are a boisterous bunch, especially lately. This year alone they’ve made widespread news at least three times.
No, they’re not hooligans. They just reserve the right to be bad as they wanna be.
What scarf-wearing, drumbeating, chant-singing fan doesn’t?
The reason for the recent coverage is that RSL fans got involved in a mild case of breaking and entering as Saturday’s MLS Cup final approaches. When Sporting Kansas City posted a season ticketholders-only presale on the Internet, RSL fans cracked the access code. The majority of the 1,000 available seats went to Salt Lake fans.
You could say they aimed for the top corner of the net and scored.
Quickly Kansas City announced all tickets purchased via the code were canceled and buyers would receive refunds. SKC fans were given alternate (read: hack-proof) instructions on how to start over. But Salt Lake fans that used the access code were out of luck, except for the refund.
If they had already bought plane tickets, well, there’s always the World War I Museum.
Real Salt Lake still received the normal 1,000-seat allotment, but that was unrelated to the presale tickets. All but about 200 RSL seats will go to family, friends and sponsors of Real.
“All I can say is I’m sure many (RSL) fans wanted to go see the game and that whole (ticket) process was out of our control,” said general manager Garth Lagerway.
While RSL fans might be excused for opportunism, they can’t be excused for directing profane chants at opposing teams last summer. Though other teams were similarly warned, Salt Lake drew considerable national attention. Fans were told that noncompliance would result in the banning of flags, banners, drums and megaphones and smoke devices.
In other words, the stuff that makes being a fan, well, fantastic.
Lagerway and others met with the support groups and received what he called “willing” compliance.
“They have been awesome in their unbridled support,” he said.
Still, unbridled might be the best word to describe some RSL fans’ enthusiasm. Also last week, word came that supporters had been buying T-shirts imprinted with an expletive directed at Kansas City. It drew enough attention to warrant mention in the Kansas City Star.
Wrote Yael T. Abouhalkah: “Aren’t those Real Salt Lake soccer fans so cute?”
It seems Real’s followers are getting a reputation.
This is at variance with how things began. Real was introduced to MLS in 2005, and for a few years was one of the league’s worst teams. Games were held at Rice-Eccles Stadium, where the sightlines were poor and a rare crowd of 15,000 looked pint-sized. Mostly, RSL fans were docile.
Now at 20,000-seat Rio Tinto, Real plays to 95 percent capacity.
The switch to its own stadium coincided with Real’s rise to the top of MLS, culminating in a 2009 championship.
Lagerway had to admit if those ill-gotten thousand tickets had gone through, it would have made for a big travel party — perhaps as many as 2,000.
Travel agents would have been delirious.
They already are.
For its part, RSL management is going into Saturday’s match with the same attitude as always. It says it loves its fans but agrees there is a balance between fervent support and unacceptable behavior.
“Once we got through that one (chanting) issue, we really haven’t had any problems,” Lagerway said.
That ticket deal?
That was Kansas City’s problem.
Fact is Real has what it wants: a fan base that, as Utahns Donny and Marie might say, is “Goin’ Coconuts” at the prospect of another MLS Cup.
“Hopefully,” said Lagerway, “next time we’ll be a little better and we can host the game and have 18,000 or 19,000 fans there.”
The ticket office should be so lucky.
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