Dell Loy Hansen stood near the base of the escalator, a few feet away from the baggage claim area inside Terminal 2 at Salt Lake City International Airport Friday morning. Off to his right were two families welcoming home LDS missionaries, balloons in hands with an elongated, yellow sign patched with smiley faces and warm words.
It was 10:06 a.m. The flight carrying Real Salt Lake’s newest Designated Player had landed from Atlanta. Hansen and other RSL front-office staffers religiously scanned the faces on the downhill escalator. The cargo, 27-year-old Sebastian Jaime, a versatile Argentinian forward penned to fortify RSL’s goal-scoring capabilities this season — and for further seasons — was to walk down the moving steps and embrace RSL’s owner and solidify his move.
But faces came and went. Time passed by. Eventually a phone rang. It was Jaime. He notified RSL officials he was all packed and ready to go on the sidewalk with a carrier cart stacked at least seven suitcases high. With him, partner Ana (who also happens to be very close to delivering twins) and her mother. RSL’s owner made his way through the double doors and out toward the sidewalk where Jaime stood.
RSL’s big splash, that high-profile move the fan base was in a tizzy over, was on the ground in Utah.
Exactly two weeks after the club officially announced the signing of Jaime from Chilean club Union Espanola, the Argentinian striker calmly posted up outside the airport in Salt Lake speaking Spanish with Hansen. It was a moment two years in the making. First identified as a possible target for RSL in 2012, Jaime’s stock soared while he poured in goals playing for Union Espanola early on. He scored 39 for the club in 124 appearances during his time with the Santiago-based organization.
The price soared, too.
But head scout Andy Williams kept tabs on Jaime and kept in the ear of general manager Garth Lagerwey. In July, Lagerwey told Hansen he wanted to go to Santiago to watch Jaime play. He did, as did RSL coach Jeff Cassar. Though RSL thoroughly scouts leagues all over the world for potential additions, Jaime was the first player Lagerwey presented to Hansen about charging after.
“We saw Jaime as what would have been one of our best choices anyway,” Hansen said. “I’ve looked at the tape and he’s pretty to watch: He’s got great [ability] with both feet, great energy, good on defense, an active player, kind of seems from what we can tell to fit our culture really well.”
RSL’s owner has never shied away from saying he’d pony up if the time was right. This was for RSL.
“Garth doesn’t put a lot of changes out there,” Hansen joked. “Garth is well thought-out and he’s very judicious with an owner’s money. And that was my point to him, ‘Garth, maybe you’re a little too judicious.’
“We felt this was really a quality acquisition — 27 years old, peak of performance in his career, scores a ton of goals, a lot of assists … he’s done a remarkable job and we think in our culture he may be better.”
Jaime loaded every suitcase into the back of the SUV circled around for him before he, his family and Hansen set out for the initial tour of the Salt Lake Valley and eventually to their new house. When driving to Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Hansen had Jaime drive. Upon arriving at the stadium, Jaime and Hansen toured the locker room and the player’s lounge. Jaime presented Hansen with a home jersey from Union Espanola with the No. 23 pressed on the back.
When Lagerwey walked into the player’s lounge, he brought two RSL home jerseys with him. Both with the No. 23 pressed on the back and Jaime across the shoulders. On his way to the pitch at Rio Tinto, a welcoming phone call came from forward Alvaro Saborio. Jaime took it and the two forwards spoke for a few minutes. After Jaime and Saborio had finished their conversation, RSL’s newest striker stood between Lagerwey and Hansen to make the deal as official as possible — he held the jersey, as did Lagerwey and Hansen.
“We want people to land in Salt Lake, and this is a critical point as anywhere in the league, if you come here, you’re well-cared for,” Hansen said. “That’s kind of why I’m here. We want to send a message from Point 1: A lot of Hispanic players can come to the league. We want the rumor mill to basically say, ‘It doesn’t get any better than Utah.’ We’re going to have to compete against New Yorks and L.A.s and Seattles, big-city cachet, so one thing you can do is have a tighter team culture.”
After taking a 12-hour red-eye flight out of Santiago, stopping in Atlanta and finally making it to Salt Lake, Jaime’s month-or-so of lying in professional limbo was over. With his new No. 23 jersey draped over his shoulder, the newest member of Real Salt Lake went home. Work starts Monday.