Fans give Real Salt Lake a warm homecoming on a cold day
Undeterred by the biting cold or their favorite team's agonizing loss in the MLS Cup championship game in Kansas City, a hearty group of 200 cheering fans welcomed Real Salt Lake players and coaches home Sunday.
Dressed in RSL parkas, hoodies, sweatshirts, scarves and jerseys, the crowd gathered to meet the team's charter flight outside a general aviation terminal at Salt Lake City International Airport.
The flight arrived about 2:15 p.m., or nearly two hours later than originally scheduled. But none of the fans seemed unhappy about waiting for a chance to greet RSL players.
"We're here to show the team that just because we didn't win doesn't mean we don't still love them," said Capu Aukusitino, of West Jordan. "We're supportive no matter what. That's what the RSL family is all about."
On Saturday, Sporting Kansas City defeated Real Salt Lake in the longest penalty-kick shootout in MLS Cup history. The teams battled to a 1-1 draw through regulation and 30 minutes of overtime.
"It was a little stressful," said Aukusitino. "It had its ups and downs. But at least we made it that far and they gave all they could. I truly believe that."
Kevin Leecaster, another fan, said, "I'm out here to show the team how proud I am to have Real represent Salt Lake. I'm out here because I'm still so excited from watching that game. It's one of the most entertaining games I've ever seen."
As Real Salt Lake players walked out of the terminal and saw those gathered for their homecoming, they smiled and waved. Several stopped to pose for pictures and sign autographs.
"Fantastic," said Nat Borchers. "These fans are so good. They are so good to us. We're very fortunate to have them. We're just looking forward to doing them proud next season."
Teammate Tony Beltran agreed.
"These are the best fans in the world," he said. "It's really nice to come home to a warm reception, considering how things went [Saturday]. But these people love us. They care about us, and we're happy to come home."
Coach Jason Kreis was the first member of the RSL entourage to emerge from the terminal and walk through the gauntlet of cheering, singing, face-painted fans.
Approached by reporters, Kreis quickly walked past and said, "Sorry, not today."
Of course, Kreis might not be returning to Real Salt Lake next season. He is pondering an offer to become the coach of Major League Soccer's newest franchise, which will be based in New York City
"I'd love to hold him down and make him stay," Borchers said. "Unfortunately we can't do that. We can't stand in his way, if he's going to leave. There's nothing we can do about it."
Beltran called Kreis "a fantastic coach and a great leader. I hope he stays. But whatever his next endeavor is, I wish him all the success in the world."