The Soap Box: RSL fans not panicked yet

Loyalist talks determination and disappointment for the champs

No team in the league
has faced a tougher gauntlet to open 2010 than the defending champs. So it
comes as little surprise that Real Salt Lake fans are less than concerned after
a disappointing but particularly nasty stretch in which the club faced the last
two unbeaten teams in MLS – Los Angeles and Columbus – in successive weeks.

Steve
McAfee is the head of RSL’s top supporters group – the Loyalists – and also the
man with his finger cautiously aimed away from the panic button. He takes to the
Soap Box this week to share his thoughts on RSL’s start and whether or not the
club’s front office is willing to make any moves to keep the crown.

MLSsoccer.com:
You’ve got one win in your first five games. Is it time to panic?

SM: I
don’t think we’re in panic mode, but obviously we’re a little concerned. Any time
you get four points in five games, you have to wonder a little bit. But there
are some reasons to have hope if you break it down, and one of them really is
the teams we’ve had to play. LA is unbeatable so far, Columbus has played well
and even San Jose is looking pretty good. At least for me personally, I get
some level of hope from the fact that of our three losses, in two of those
losses we didn’t allow a single shot on goal. We’ve had three PKs awarded
against us, and you can argue those any way you want. But zero shots on goal,
if we can do that over a period of time, we’re going to get some points.

MLSsoccer.com:
What did you make of RSL’s loss to Columbus last weekend?

SM: We
fell flat in the second half a little bit and Columbus stepped it up, and they
looked very good. And of course, we had some injuries. We call ourselves a deep
team, but I don’t know that we really are. A lot of that depth is extremely
young, and in experienced. But over the period of a few years with the
philosophy of (head coach Jason Kreis and general manager Garth Lagerwey) of
keeping the main core of guys together, I think the team’s going to get more
and more solid.

MLSsoccer.com:
What was the feeling among the fans coming back this spring?

SM: I
think among the core group of fans, it was quite good. There was so much talk
about our record last year, but if you break it down by halves, we were a good
team and we finished quite strongly. Coming back with most of the same guys, there
was a lot optimism. I was a little discouraged that we didn’t seem to want to
go after any kind of upgrade in the offseason…

MLSsoccer.com:
Other teams were making moves, you guys weren’t.

SM: Right,
and some teams made some fantastic moves and were very aggressive about getting
some talent. In the end we got the striker, Alvaro Saborio. And he looks pretty
good so far, he should be working in his way in here pretty quick if he’s going
to do it.

MLSsoccer.com:
Should the team have been more aggressive?

SM: There
is so much talk – and a lot of it is rumors – that there will be some big moves
made in the next transfer window. And the talk around here is that we’re not
going to be a part of that. Again, we’re a little concerned. But on the other
hand, I think Jason and Greg have done a great job of assessing talent and
putting it together, so it’s tough to be too critical. We just won a
championship. All in all, they’ve done well over the last few years.

MLSsoccer.com:
Garth Lagerwey has gone on record saying that the increased DP slots are
perhaps in place more for the big-market teams, and that the team likely won’t
use them. Do you think RSL will ever get a big-name international player?

SM: I
think that’s short-sided. That may have been our stance up to this point, and
it might be our stance over the next year or so. But what happens in a few
years, when you can have three DPs and buy up to five? At some point, to stay
competitive, we’re going to have to play the game. And if we don’t want to play
that game, we’re going to fizzle into obscurity. And I really don’t think that’s
going to happen.

MLSsoccer.com:
There have been so many international exhibitions announced for this summer,
trying to appeal to different city’s fan bases. What team appeals to the fan
base in Salt Lake City?

SM: Really,
for the fans in Salt Lake, I don’t know. We’re a unique market here with the
prevailing religion, and a lot of the young kids go all over the world for a
few years, and most of them come back soccer fans. But they’re fans of many
different teams and different leagues, but I don’t think it’s tied to any one
market. With Landon Donovan playing over there, I think Everton would be a
great draw here in Salt Lake and probably anywhere in the U.S. I know I’d love
to see them.

MLSsoccer.com:
You guys have Toronto FC this weekend at home. Is that a sure-fire win?

SM: I
feel that way, but I hope the players don’t. You always get a little nervous that
the guys get overconfident, but Toronto hasn’t looked to great this year. And
again, we’re finally at home again, and we play well at home. I think we’ll
still be missing Javier Morales this weekend, and we don’t have another central
midfielder who can do what he does. We certainly play a little differently
without him, but we have a lot of talented players. Is it a must-win, will
people crumble if we don’t win? People might start to. But they shouldn’t. We’re
still a good team.