One good indication the Utah Blaze weren't fooling around was on March 5, four days after Steve Videtich missed a kick that would have won the season-opener.
Just like that, he was gone, dust in the wind.
So much for long, sentimental good-byes. The Blaze signed replacement Steve Azar the same day.
Videtich's release was just one of various transactions by the Blaze this year. With a 0-4 record, they aren't exactly waiting around. Last week, they waived defensive back Kevin Adams and signed Carlton Brown from the practice squad. They also downgraded defensive coordinator Hunkie Cooper to defensive backfield. A few days earlier, they traded up-and-coming defensive lineman Rob Schroeder to Orlando for veteran defensive back Damon Mason. Thursday, they acquired defensive back Eddie Canonico from Los Angeles.
In late February, the Blaze cut 10 players as they pared down for the season, among them popular figures like linebacker Valentine Chude (How do you release a guy named Valentine in February?).
Meanwhile, on a football, er, futbol field nearby, Real Salt Lake has staged a Janet Jackson-like makeover. Jason Kreis, who has been the coach since early last season, and general manager Garth Lagerway, who has only been in town since September, are just wrapping up their spring cleaning. Twenty of RSL's 28 players weren't on last year's opening-day roster.
In the past year, coach John Ellinger was fired and general manager Steve Pastorino resigned. RSL, which based its early appeal on "name" players such as Freddy Adu, Clint Mathis, Eddie Pope and Jeff Cunningham, is now calling itself a no-stars operation and it appears true. Adu has gone to Portugal to play, Cunningham was traded to Toronto, Mathis is in Greece and Pope has retired.
Touted striker Luis Tejada was released after playing in just one game last spring, when it was determined he was out of shape.
All totaled, RSL has made 22 transactions in 2008 alone.
Not a MLS record, but not sitting on their hands, either.
Only Nikolas Besagno, Andy Williams and Kenny Cutler remain from RSL's 2005 opening-day roster.
So if you're playing for Real, you may want to keep a change of address card on your nightstand.
Obviously, RSL and the Blaze aren't happy with their results. They're mad as heck and they're not gonna take it anymore if they can help it. The Blaze have made the playoffs twice, but didn't advance either time. Now they're winless in 2008. RSL is 21-50-23 all-time. Thrilled to have pro soccer in Utah, fans accepted the team's early growing pains without complaint. But with a new stadium rising, so are expectations, and even the faithful are getting restless.
Of course, building expansion teams isn't simple.
On one hand, patience is important. But without constant evaluation and adjustment, it can turn into complacency or even resignation. Seems there's a fine line between patience and moving forward.
"It's not a fine line, it's a big line," Kreis said this week as his team prepared for Saturday's season-opener. "It's a difficult thing to do. Meanwhile, we'll do the best we can. We'll try to do both, and do it to the best of our abilities."
Kreis has purposely toned down the rhetoric this year. Don't expect any Terrell Owenesque forecasts. Owner Dave Checketts predicted before RSL's first season that his team would at least make the playoffs, but it hasn't come close. Now Real has a new mantra: Speak softly and carry a big kick.
"We have a lot of confidence, a lot of belief," Kreis said, "but we're not going to set expectations."
Blaze coach Danny White may want to follow suit. He said before this season that it would be a "reasonable" goal to win a championship and called missing the playoffs "unacceptable." At this point, the term might be "unavoidable."
Thus, Utah's still-new pro teams continue to shuffle the deck in hopes of respectability. If you have a favorite player, you may want to catch him while you can. He might not be around long.On the bright side, you may catch him for an autograph at the bus station on the way out.
E-mail: [email protected]