SANDY In Real Salt Lake's 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls in the Western Conference Finals, the crowd of 20,008 at sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium had a European soccer-crowd feel to it.
The electricity in the air, particularly in the last 30 minutes of action when Real threw everything forward in tying to equalize and 14 shots while creating scoring chance after scoring chance, could almost be touched it was so real. One didn't need to even look at the field to know what was happening. The rise and fall of the crowd's enthusiasm was a clear indicator of the action.
"It was exciting," said midfielder Will Johnson. "We have the best fans in the league by far. They were pushing us. Every time we got a corner, we were getting a head on every ball, but we just couldn't find the back of the net ... It was a lot of fun to play those last 30 minutes, but at the end of the day it is frustrating to not get something out of the game."
In Real's first playoff game against Chivas USA, there were 5,000 or so empty seats. Although those in attendance gave it a valiant effort, it still lacked the big-time intensity that was demonstrated Saturday night. The edge-of-the-seat action brought a new level of fan interaction.
"We had great fans and great crowds all year. They were always supporting us," said Kyle Beckerman. "But, yeah, there was something else going on tonight. They were really trying to give us the burst we needed to get that one goal. I feel really bad that we couldn't give them that goal, because if we did this place would have exploded."
With "thunder sticks" added to the normal drums, bag pipes, horns and voices, the stadium was rocking-and-rolling. With every ball down the wing, or cross sent to the middle, the anticipation rose in every fans' throat just waiting for the inevitable tying goal. It never came. But the love pouring from the stands never stopped.
"It's unbelievable to see our fans come together, show up in the cold weather and help us out to push us through," said Yura Movsisyan. "It was an unbelievable feeling that even after the game, when we lost, that they were still shouting out, 'RSL.' It was unbelievable to see the support."
The loss ended Real's 2008 season, but with the late-season success, and the introduction to the community of playoff soccer, RSL may have picked it up a notch when it comes to fan support.