Real Salt Lake players glued to TV as supporters
They huddle around TV to pull for foreign teams, often sparking a friendly rivalry with teammates.
Published: April 30, 2014 11:08PM
Updated: April 30, 2014 10:12PM
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Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Real Salt Lake's Luis Gil (21) celebrates with Real Salt Lake's Fabian Espindola (7) after Espindola scored in the second period, putting Real Salt Lake up 2-0, in RSL action, Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids at Rio Tinto Stadium on April 7, 2012. Gil has been one of the nation's most highly regarded young players throughout his teenage years. RSL expects Gil to have an impact this season.

Sandy • One could hear the elation in the lobby of Rio Tinto Stadium, the raucous reaction of noise emitted down the elongated concrete hallway streamlining throughout the lowest level of the Real Salt Lake’s home.

Inside the club’s new players’ lounge, adjacent to the locker room, is where the athletes squeeze in together to take in matches from around the world. And as the leagues in Europe and worldwide approach the end of their seasons, some RSL players are biting their nails.

When a goal is sent into the back of the net, the roar down the hall grows louder and louder.

“You have time to spend there with guys after practice,” said midfielder Javier Morales. “Now, nobody’s hurried to go home because you have everything there [at the stadium].”

As is the case with most professional soccer clubs, RSL’s eclectic group spans from California to Maryland to Gambia to England to Ecuador and beyond. But some players have chosen to support clubs overseas, some of which are rivals with clubs rooted for by other players.

Example: Midfielder Luis Gil is a Real Madrid man. The 20-year-old Californian, who grew up watching Mexico’s Liga MX, has always been a fan of arguably the biggest soccer club on the planet. But midfielder Sebastian Velasquez is an avid Barcelona FC supporter.

So as the back-and-forth between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi has played out over the last few seasons, it’s also been a topic in the RSL locker room. As the UEFA Champions League tournament continued this week, Real Madrid crushed defending Champions League winners Bayern Munich 5-0 on goal aggregate in the semifinal.

Which means Gil gets to enjoy the player’s lounge atmosphere a bit more these last three weeks of Spain’s La Liga season, as Real Madrid climbs toward cross-town rival Atletico Madrid, six points clear of Real Madrid, in the tables. Ironically, the two Madrid clubs will meet in the Champions League final in Lisbon on May 24, after Atletico dispatched Chelsea FC on Wednesday in London.

“It brings the team together,” Gil said. “Especially when games are on right after practice. All we do is huddle up in there and watch games. It does get exciting.”

Morales isn’t like most soccer fans. Even back home in Argentina, he chooses not monster clubs Boca Juniors or River Plate, but third-division Temperley, a club that he grew up supporting in a small province of Buenos Aires.

But the 34-year-old midfielder says as long as Messi remains at Barcelona, he’ll continue to root for the powerhouse side. Morales said he has several teams in the mix each year, but has been attracted to Liverpool FC and Atletico Madrid.

As for Real Madrid?

“They are too big,” Morales said, laughing. “They have a lot of money and they can buy everything. I like different kinds of teams.”

Tony Beltran’s considered himself a Gooner — code for an Arsenal supporter — for as long as he can remember. The RSL defender grew up watching Arsenal every Saturday in Southern California, because in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Thierry Henry dominated headlines and the EPL. As luck would have it, Beltran’s youth club team was named Arsenal. So the fit was easy. Currently in the fourth spot in the EPL, the Gunners are fighting for a spot in next year’s Champions League picture, with Everton nipping at their heels. But Beltran said he’s heard some decent banter this year as the club struggled to maintain a hot start to the season.

“They’re doing well, but have failed to win a trophy in the last eight years, so I get a lot of grief for that,” he joked.

And Beltran knows Liverpool fans Luke Mulholland and Paul Dalglish — and even Chelsea supporter Chris Schuler — will have some more friendly banter go his way as those two clubs fight it out for the 2014 EPL crown.

“It’s good football,” Beltran said. “People watch it.”

ckamrani@sltrib.com

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