SANDY — It came shrieking in from the west, full of bluster and malevolence.
Turned out the storm wasn’t all that damaging.
Neither was Manchester United.
For the international soccer giant, Monday’s match was a workout. For Real Salt Lake, it was supposed to be that, too. But it wasn’t. It was RSL’s Susan Boyle moment.
It’s true, Britain’s got (the) talent.
But Salt Lake has attitude.
“At start of the game, (for) a lot of the guys and our coaching staff, the message was about ‘go out and enjoy yourself,’” said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman. “But I think when I came back from warm-ups, I’m like, ‘Forget about enjoying. Let’s try to win this game.’”
When you’re in the kitchen, find the refrigerator.
Though United won the international friendly, 2-1, RSL played to a 1-1 tie in the first 30 minutes, before coach Mike Petke changed lines. All things considered, a day to remember. They can tell their great-grandkids they played heads-up against soccer’s Yankees. Luis Silva took a pass from Jefferson Savarino in the 23rd minute and slipped it past Joel Castro Pereira for the game’s first score. It took until the 29th minute — just before Beckerman & Co. exited — for Man U to tie the score.
In the 38th, Romelu Lukaku got past Lalo Fernandez to put United up 2-1.
RSL made its lineup changes 30 minutes into the match, to preserve itself for Wednesday’s MLS match against Portland. MUFC held its starters through the first half.
“I would have liked to have played longer,” Beckerman said.
The evening began with foreboding. Around two hours before start, weather darkened and early arrivers were asked to get beneath the overhangs to avoid lightning. Out in the concourses, nachos were warming, pizza sizzling, hot dogs rotating.
Everything was good except the prospects. With the Reds set to play Manchester City later this week, the possibility of a cancellation hung on the wind.
In most ways, this was supposed to be a star turn, more than an actual workday. That much was obvious by the overflow crowd in the press box. Seventy-one credentials were issued to media. On a normal night at Rio Tinto, the press contingent numbers about a dozen.
It was so congested upstairs that the stat crew was moved to a different area than normal. Even Real’s public relations chief gave up his seat.
There was nothing particularly normal about Monday, starting with the weather, continuing with RSL’s surprising showing (Man U beat Los Angeles 5-2 on Saturday) and peaking with Albert Rusnak and Kyle Beckerman holding press conferences — at halftime.
At least one side played like this was the World Cup. In reality, the game had all the importance of a dress rehearsal. Both coaches admitted beforehand it was an exhibition.
As United manager Jose Mourinho said in Los Angeles, “It was a good training session. I thank the Galaxy players for the training they gave us and hopefully Real Salt Lake can give us the same kind of experience."
Salt Lake gave it more than that.
The second half was mostly for gaining experience and working out the kinks.
In addition to conditioning work at altitude, United is also doing what numerous other high-end soccer clubs attempt: expanding its global footprint. Soccer fans in England have already made their choice, as have those in Italy, Germany, Spain and Brazil.
Markets in China and the U.S., though, represent fertile ground.
United wants to be everywhere. Estimates say there are over 600 million fans worldwide, which looks suspiciously like everywhere. The Manchester Guardian says the club had revenue of roughly $657 million in 2015-16.
Still, if you like spectacles, this was it.
Lost in the glitter of hosting a famous club is that fact RSL is currently in ninth place in the Western Conference. However, it is just four points below the red line. There is still time for a postseason push.
Rusnak noted the team’s confidence is “very much better than it was a month ago.”
He went on to say Monday was a chance to “show to everybody we can play good soccer even against a Premier club, so it’s not about playing great or something, it’s about gaining confidence.”
The good news for RSL is that it has a home-friendly schedule through its final 14 league games, eight at Rio Tinto.
Even better news: None of the opponents are better than United.