Like movies that include a little something special in the ending credits, the Real Salt Lake home opener earlier this month — a 1-0 victory over Vancouver Whitecaps FC — had a treat for those who stuck around after the final whistle.
In a newly-hatched tradition that will play out after each RSL home win, the Man of the Match (selected by head coach Mike Petke) will plant a flag in front of the south goal, where the bulk of The Riot — the new name for the coalition of six different RSL supporters’ groups — cheer for the full 90.
The inaugural celebration involved former Real Salt Lake player and current broadcaster Brian Dunseth, who waved an RSL flag in front of The Riot, handed it off to supporter Chiqui Pelaez, who then gave it to Man of the Match Kyle Beckerman for the symbolic flag planting.
It’s fitting that Dunseth was involved – after all, it was his goal celebration, in the first RSL-hosted Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry match in April 2005, that inspired this new post-game ceremony. Dunseth celebrated his 81st-minute goal, which gave the expansion team its first win ever, by running to the corner flag and “planting” it into the turf.
“It’s incredible, that something that was so in the moment is applicable so many years later, especially with this fan base,” Dunseth said. “When you have the opportunity to score that first home goal, you don’t realize that it resonated in the way that it did. So when I was asked if I would participate in it, I said absolutely, immediately.”
Pelaez, who has been an RSL fan since the team first took the field, was honored, but mostly surprised to be part of the festivities — fellow supporters let him know in the 85th minute of the match that he was their designated rep on a day where his primary concern had been the success of The Riot’s pre-match tifo display.
“I was a little nervous,” Pelaez confessed. “My feet were sweating!” He confided to Dunseth that he was nervous, and Dunseth responded that he was shaking a little himself. “Perfect! If you’re shaking, then I don’t feel too bad. You don’t want to make a mistake in the moment, especially being the first one.”
Pelaez said it was a fantastic experience, and even though the supporters have ideas on what they might do to refine it for future home wins, they’re on board with the new tradition. Zac Barnes, another longtime supporter instrumental in The Riot reinvention, sees the ceremony as something that’s helping get all the different fan groups on the same page.
“Over the last couple years, we've really kind of focused on trying to bring that unity together and highlighting the things that we all want to do together,” Barnes said, including more collaboration on tifo, chants in both Spanish and English, and coordination among capos from the different supporters’ groups.
Pelaez and Barnes both note that the front office has been instrumental in the groups’ efforts to come together as The Riot, including providing meeting space at the stadium for group representatives and access to the stadium outside of game days for chant practice. Though the supporters’ groups are still maintaining their individual identities, coming together as The Riot is something they believe will better show support for a team they see as family.
And, in some cases, given RSL’s renowned academy and being one of the league’s strongest #PlayYourKids proponents, the family members are developing and growing into maturity in front of them.
“We’ve seen some of these players as 15 and 16 year olds,” Pelaez said. “You get to learn who they are and get to know them. They become more familiar in that way — Utah is all about family, and at Real Salt Lake, we’re cheering for these kids, and people are really getting behind that.”
Dunseth is also encouraged by what he’s seeing happen with the team whose history he helped script, and the fans who have come together to support them.
“When the club came, there wasn’t this incredible soccer culture the club was walking into,” he noted. “It was an educated fan base, but a fan base that I think represented the culture of Utah, which is a little bit separated at times [from other MLS fan bases]. You have the Mormon culture, the non-Mormon culture, the punk aspect, the family aspect . . . It took a while to figure out a way to organically afford a group of supporters the opportunity to create something for themselves.”
And yet, the tifo The Riot unveiled at the home opener — declaring “Estamos Unidos” (“We Are United”) — encourages Dunseth.
“I've never questioned the knowledge of this fan base," Dunseth said. "I think they've always been really super knowledgeable with regards to not only the game and the tactics, but the feel, the referees, the momentum swings.”
And now, they’ve got a new (but classic) way to celebrate home wins.