Snacking on a Levy's Restaurant delicacy Monday in one of the mock suites for Real Salt Lake's new stadium with the white steel of the stadium seemingly climbing into the sky out of the corner of his eye RSL owner Dave Checketts couldn't help but reflect on the many things the club has done right from a business perspective since the club's inception in 2004.
It hasn't been perfect, but average attendance and season ticket sales have been consistently among the best in MLS, in addition to being the first franchise to sign a contract for a jersey sponsor with Xango.
For as good as business has been off the field, on the field it's been anything but.
"I think we got a lot of things wrong early on," said Checketts, the principal owner of SCP Worldwide, which owns the team. "Competitively, we did a lot of things that didn't make any sense."
Besides pointing a finger at himself for being a soccer owner who didn't really understand the sport much in the beginning, Checketts isn't one to bad mouth former employees and get into specifics about where things went wrong. With that said, he'd probably agree that the Clint Mathis signing was the start of many of the franchise's problems. Even after Mathis' departure to Colorado, a portion of Mathis' salary was still being paid by RSL, further handcuffing the team's salary cap for two more years.
The Freddy Adu and Luis Tejada investments weren't exactly stellar either.
There's nothing that can be done about the past, but with the 2008 season getting under
way this Saturday against the Chicago Fire, Checketts is excited about the future with RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey and head coach Jason Kreis leading the way.
"At the end of the day I think you have to bet on people, and Jason is one of the most driven, intense guys I've ever met," Checketts said. "I said this the day I made him coach and I believe it more even today, he will find a way because he's overachieved his whole life."
Checketts reiterated that he believes Kreis is only going to get better, and he's prepared to have him be Real Salt Lake's coach for a long time.
Like virtually everyone else associated with the club, Checketts is taking a cautious approach to the 2008 season. Sure the talent level is improved and there's reason for optimism, but Checketts has no interest in approaching things with a playoffs-or-bust mentality. He likes to reference an old saying by Frank Layden during his early Utah Jazz days, "it's better to surprise than to disappoint."
It appears that after three years of disappointment, and an offseason that saw virtually half of RSL's roster overhauled, Checketts is toning down his expectation level.
"I don't think anyone really knows," Checketts said.
"The other thing about this crazy sport versus the other sports I've been involved with. The difference between winning and losing is like inches. We're going to have to be a little lucky too," he said. "In years and years of professional sports I've never had a team lose as much as this team has, and I'm convinced that was all about people."He's confident the right people are in place to begin fixing three years of poor performances and poor decisions.
Rough first 3 years
2005: 5-22-5, 5th place
2006: 10-13-9, 5th place