Riggs Lennon is progressing well in his collegiate soccer career. He played in 16 matches for the Virginia Cavaliers in his sophomore season in Charlottesville, starting seven times and logging one assist.
However, the former RSL-Arizona Academy forward also provided the biggest highlight of the year on Sunday in the NCAA championship game against UCLA. After 110 scoreless minutes, the two traditional NCAA soccer powerhouses went to a penalty-kick shootout. With Virginia leading 3-2 in the fifth round, a goal from Lennon would seal the championship. With UCLA’s goalkeeper diving to his left, the left-footed Lennon rifled his shot down the middle, tearing off his shirt and lifting his hands in the air in celebration of Virginia’s seventh NCAA title.
Virginia finished the season with a 13-6-4 record, winning two shootouts in the NCAA Tournament to eventually emerge champions.
Lennon scored five goals in his freshman season in 2013. The Paradise Valley, Ariz., native was a three-time Arizona High School Player of the Year, leading Brophy Prep to two state championships.
Another player with RSL ties hit the penalty shot for Virginia prior to Lennon, as MF Patrick "Paddy" Foss - who also hit the game-winning PK in the quarterfinal tiebreaker against Georgetown - stepped to the spot, his smile and laugh as he approached belying the gravity of the moment.
Foss - whose father Mike, served as RSL's television director from 2005-12, and brother, Michael, Jr., played for the Ogden Outlaws during the summer of 2009 - has been a friend of the organization throughout his childhood. Paddy was fortunate enough to participate in an adidas camp in Salt Lake City in August, 2006, one which featured David Beckham and members of the Real Madrid squad in town to face RSL at Rice-Eccles Stadium a few days later. Paddy's youth club in Virginia, coached by his father and U.S. Soccer icon John Harkes, was known for a few years as "RSL Juniors," donning merchandise from the team store and winning their youth division and several tournaments - including a Utah-based "Futbolito 3v3" - in 2009, a win Paddy and his teammates celebrated by their inaugural visit to Rio Tinto Stadium in the venue's first full season.
After so many goals and victories at Rio Tinto Stadium, players for Real Salt Lake turn to its ever-fervent crowd, celebrating their own accomplishments while also acknowledging the role played by the sell-out crowds in Sandy.
On Wednesday, that relationship between the club and its supporters will be formally celebrated on Fan Appreciation Night as RSL takes on Chivas USA in the regular season finale.
“They’ve been incredible. Our record has been very good at home this year and that’s a credit to our fans,” RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar said from the team’s training facility on Monday. “Without a doubt they give us energy and we wouldn’t be where we are without them, that’s for sure.”
Real holds the league’s third-best home record this season at 10-1-5, the lone defeat coming clear back in June against the Portland Timbers. With crowds reaching club-record heights, averaging 20,332 per game through the first 16 home matches, the players have taken notice and aim to reward that support against Chivas on Wednesday.
“The fans are really into it and they’ve supported us all the way through. Hopefully we can return the favor a little bit by having some success,” said RSL DF Chris Wingert, who is in his eight season with the Claret-and-Cobalt. “That’s the best way we know how is to give it our all and hopefully we can provide a couple home games for them here in the next month.”
There is a lot at stake in the final match of the 2014 season, with Real aiming to put itself into the third spot in the Western Conference playoffs, avoiding the Knockout Round match between the fourth- and fifth-seeded teams.
In addition to celebrating Fan Appreciation Night in the stadium, RSL will also be bringing the celebration to the fans all week through various appearances by club mascot Leo, who will be popping in on various locations around the city throughout the week.
Stay tuned to Twitter (@RealSaltLake) and Instagram (realsaltlake) for further updates and information on how to get RSL swag.
The latest episode of the Emmy-Nominated MLS Insider series profiled Nick Rimando this week after the Real Salt Lake goalkeeper broke the all-time MLS record with his 113th career shutout against D.C. United on August 9. The feature dives into the highs and lows of Rimando’s storied career, from winning MLS Cup with D.C. United in 2004 to finding himself traded twice in two weeks prior to the 2007 season. His teammates, Head Coach Jeff Cassar and General Manager Garth Lagerway all talked about Rimando’s role with the club while Rimando and his wife discussed the behind-the-scenes story of how he landed with the Claret-and-Cobalt.
The players see it. They know how you’ve embraced this team and they know how you’ve – unlike any other fan-base in the league, perhaps unlike any other in the entire region – embraced this tournament.
They know how badly you want Tuesday night’s must-win CONCACAF Champions League Group Stage finale against Costa Rican club C.S. Herediano. They want it just as much, both for themselves and for you, too.
“This needs to happen for our fan-base,” midfielder Will Johnson told reporters a few days ago. “They have adopted the CONCACAF Champions League like no other fan-base in the league. They believe in it. They love the tournament, as we do. So for us to continue on in that tournament for our fans is very important."
If RSL is to win either 1-0 or by multiple goals on Tuesday night to win Group 2 and advance to the CCL Quarterfinals, they’ll need all of your support. Believe it or not, it really does make a difference.
“With our fan base behind us, I really feel they’ll be the ones that can push us over the top,” Johnson told media.
For those of you coming out to Rio Tinto Stadium for the 8 p.m. match, show up early. Be loud. Propel RSL on to victory. Remember that this is the team’s biggest game of the year - possibly the biggest since the 2011 CCL final against Monterrey. They need you tonight.
Keep on being the great fans you’ve been all year.
And, as always, #Believe.
Welcome to The Sovereign, the official blog of Real Salt Lake.
Those of us here at RSL are thrilled to finally get our blog off the ground. The Sovereign’s going to be an exciting place, chock-full of interesting content. Our regular videos and written posts will let you get to know the players, highlight overlooked storylines, go deep inside the numbers, study tactics, and - perhaps most notably - take you under the hood of the RSL organization.
So make sure you check The Sovereign often. It’s going to be fun, informative and – of course – very, very Real.
Our next post will drop later this afternoon. Don’t miss it.