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Kamrani: Utah will miss RSL owner Checkett's no-nonsense attitude

Published January 27, 2013 6:29 pm

No-nonsense owner showed loyalty to RSL and turned team into a perennial playoff threat.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Deep in the bowels of a football stadium that housed a futbol team for a brief time, a suit-and-tie wearing gentleman, a front-office guy — the boss — had enough.

Colorado Rapids midfielder Pablo Mastroeni endeared himself to the Real Salt Lake faithful on a balmy night on Sept. 2, 2006, forever engraving himself into enemy lore, as well as giving a boss worth a lot of money a chance to stand up for his franchise.

The Rapids won a decisive 1-0 Rocky Mountain Cup match at Rice-Eccles Stadium that night as the World Cup midfielder ripped off his jersey, spun it around his head like a helicopter blade and repeatedly stuffed the shirt into his shorts once the referee blew the 90 minutes done.

RSL owner Dave Checketts, a no-nonsense sports figure who has been involved in the Utah sporting realm since the 1980s, saw the taunts. The man who brought professional soccer and eventually one of the state's only professional championships, decided to step into the ring in front of a reported 17,000 spectators that night.

Endless brownie points.

The two had to be separated by several Colorado and RSL members as they continued in engaging in a heated debate. Even world-renowned soccer hot-head and two-time RSL midfielder Clint Mathis played peacemaker for a night — a minor insight into how mind-boggling it was to see a team owner and a star player toss unprintable phrases each other's way.

Checketts' fight to keep RSL "Real Salt Lake," rather than "Real St. Louis," forever cemented a loyalty to his home state and further guaranteed his ability to see skyward when the franchise was toiling on the lowest ring of the totem pole.

His hiring of an aging forward who did backflips after scoring goals for a bad team as coach was questioned, but only for a short while.

On that night in September 2006, Checketts effectively became the rich guy who was a voice for his fans. Rather than a slew of angry fans heaving who-knows-what at Mastroeni as his taunting tirade went on, it was the boss in the suit and tie who wanted a piece of the action.

It's an isolated moment in the team's now turned-around history, but it's hard not to circle as one of the many turning points in the 180-degree turn from league laughingstock to perennial playoff threat. On Thursday, he sold his team to Dell Loy Hansen, bringing his time as the consistent heartbeat of RSL to an end.

"It took a real village here to build this all up," Checketts said Thursday.

He protected the village, always finding a way to look skyward.

ckamrani@sltrib.com