The Cheap Seats: The ReAL deal

and I use that word in all its definitions -- to check in on the "Team That Checketts Is Building," and I will now unabashedly tell any and all that, indeed, Salt Lake City rocks! (You can keep Cleveland, Drew Carey. Cleveland doesn't rock.)

And I would say "The SLC Rocks!" even if a student nurses convention hadn't been in town this week. The entire city is hopping, even at midnight on a random Wednesday. Reverend Horton Heat was playing, but luckily it was sold out or else I might've ended up serenading some fresh-faced future Florence Nightingale with my heartbreaking rendition of "Love Whip."

Don't get me wrong, I haven't ditched the greasy streets of Brooklyn for the rarified air of the Rocky Mountains. But I'm tempted. I could get used to waking up in the shadow of snow-capped mountains and listening to thousands of student nurses chirping in the hotel lobby.

Furthermore, in Utah, the mullet is seriously back. That alone might be reason enough to relocate. We're talking Matt Taylor mullets. (Side note: Is Taylor's mullet the surprise performance of the first week? Doesn't he deserve a bonus for having the guts to resurrect the soccer mullet? Matt Taylor, I salute you with a Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler.)

I wouldn't be alone in choosing to relocate. Every ReAL Salt Lake player I chatted with said the same thing. "I could easily see myself settling down here," said Brian Kamler, who I think has suited up for every MLS team, including a few that only existed as rumors such as Olympique Albuquerque and Missoula Moenchengladbach.

But more than embracing their new surroundings, Kamler and his teammates are amazed by how SLC has embraced its new team. Yesterday, about 50 people watched RSL train. By comparison, did 50 people watch the MetroStars train all last season?

RSL season tickets are selling at a mind-boggling pace. Not quite U2 pace, but RSL people expect a sellout crowd for the opener next weekend, and will most likely open up additional seats in the 45,000-seat Eccles-Rice Stadium to accommodate the fan rush.

Even the media is in a tizzy. One RSL staffer told me he left work the other day, and in the car, both sports radio stations were talking soccer. Huh? Since when did sports radio do anything but prove that sports radio is for Neanderthals? The staffer said he flipped back and forth with a childish smile of glee. And last week, The Salt Lake City Tribune had an 8-page spread, including an entire page devoted to the rules of the game, such as "You may not handle the ball with the arms and legs." Baby steps, I reminded myself, baby steps.

But, obviously, knowing the game isn't so important for Salt Lakers. They'll root for anything local. RSL's franchise opener at the MetroStars last week (Quick poll: Was that a soccer match or a Monty Python sketch?) was shown in Salt Lake City on tape delay and went up against the NCAA semifinals. It pulled a 3 rating. That's huge. For comparison, your average ESPN2 telecast last season pulled a .9 rating. So, in other words, Utahns (wow, what a silly word!) are three times more interested in watching their beloved ReAL Salt Lake. At least I think that's how it works. I never understood the ratings system. It's almost as difficult to understand as the Utah liquor laws.

Honestly, though, it's like a lovefest out there. RSL people are downright drunk on soccer. They lounge around the offices til 10 p.m., watching soccer, talking soccer, selling soccer. I'd never been in any office at 10 p.m. until last night. And I'm never going back. Too wacky. 10 p.m.-ers are out there, man, and I kept expecting to hear somebody in the back corner whining about his stapler.

All that overtime is paying off, though. Someone had to create the massive billboard just off of I-80 as you head downtown. Under the banner "Real Passion," Brian Dunseth is doing a flying side volley, which, of course, is an integral part of the veteran center back's skill set. Ah, who cares? It's a big red billboard. And, boy, that Dunseth is a sexy guy. At least that's what the student nurses told me.

The good news is not all boring front-office junk. On the field, RSL looks more solid than anyone expected. Certainly compared to the other newcomers, Chivas USA.

RSL already has a point (Unlike Chivas USA). From top to bottom, they're pretty solid, from Eddie Pope in the back to a very unquiet Western front made up of Clint Mathis, Jason Kreis, Dipsy Selolwane, and Andy Williams. It's enough to make Galaxy coach Steve Sampson revamp his squad for this week's tilt. Oh wait, surprise, surprise, Sampson is tinkering with the lineup.

Wow, re-reading all this, I sound like a deranged RSL fanatic. Or a member of the Checketts family.

Well, if that's how it comes off ... fine. I need a random team to root for this season. I tend to like seemingly hopeless causes and underdogs. So, I'll embrace this collection of madcaps and diapered unknowns (who, truthfully, should make the playoffs but not do much more). I'll take their high-altitude home advantage. I'll take their total trust in head coach John Ellinger. I'll take their team spirit, which is so damn happy-go-lucky it makes me want to puke.

I'll take all that and ... and, I'll challenge my deranged colleague Tino Palace to a duel: It says here that RSL will win the four-game season series with his beloved FC Dallas. Name the bet, Tex.

Greg Lalas played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1997. Send e-mail to Greg at cheapseats@g73.org. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.


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