RSL, Royals FC fans adjusting to life without soccer, but it’s not easy

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake fans celebrate a goal as Real Salt Lake hosts Toronto FC, MLS Soccer at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday May 18, 2019.

The sports world was rocked last week as leagues across the country either suspended operations or canceled games altogether. The NBA and Major League Soccer are on hiatus for at least 30 days (and likely more) and there will be no NCAA Tournament this year.

But it’s not only the players, coaches, athletic trainers and sports journalists finding themselves with nothing to do as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. Fans are feeling the brunt of it, too, including supporters and season ticket holders for Real Salt Lake, the Utah Royals FC and Real Monarchs.

“I literally cannot remember the last weekend that I didn't watch, attend, coach or play soccer,” said Nic Shellabarger, who holds season tickets for both RSL and the Royals.

RSL was just two games into its season before the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, forced MLS to suspend. The Royals, meanwhile, had just started preseason before their schedule was canceled.

And the Monarchs played just one game before the United Soccer League Championship schedule was suspended. The league extended its hiatus until at least May 10 after originally doing so for the initial 30-day period like MLS.

Additionally, the U.S. Women’s National Team, for which Christen Press and Kelley O’Hara of the Royals play, canceled friendlies scheduled to occur in April. One of those was going to be at Rio Tinto Stadium against Australia.

“We are saddened by the USWNT friendly game being cancelled,” soccer fan Steve Flanagan said. “Don’t know when we'll get another chance to watch this team.”

Ryan Terry, a fan of RSL and European soccer, said he will have to find a way to adjust after being used to having soccer available “almost 50 weekends a year.” Several international soccer leagues have suspended their operations as well, including Premier League, Champions League and, most recently, Liga MX.

“This is huge,” Terry said. “We’ve all been through labor disputes and seen short seasons, etc., but nothing like this. I was talking with my wife and discussing how I literally don’t know what to do with myself.”

No soccer — or other sports for that matter — have fans looking for alternate ways to spend time once earmarked for game days. Some mentioned working on projects around the house, spending more time with their kids and catching up on Netflix shows.

RSL fan Chandler Parkinson thinks not having games to watch or attend may actually make him more productive in his studies.

“I'm currently in graduate school, so maybe it will help me not procrastinate homework and finally turn things in early,” Parkinson joked.

RSL supporter Chiqui Pelaez said he anticipates spending time with his family during the hiatus or trying to connect with Brian Dunseth, a soccer analyst who commentates on soccer from various leagues, including MLS.

“With other leagues also canceling I’ll probably spend a lot of time playing with my kids or learning about curling so I can have conversations with Dunny,” Pelaez said.

The general consensus among fans seems to be they’re disappointed about indefinitely not having soccer in their lives. But at the same time, they understand that the measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 were necessary — even if it meant sacrificing soccer.

“I’m not thrilled about the delay but understand it is a necessary precaution and I think it’s the right decision,” said Heather Buatte, who lives in Cache Valley.

There’s no telling when sports will be back, especially after the Centers for Disease Control recently recommended canceling or postponing gatherings of at least 50 people for eight weeks. MLS just extended its postponing of games until at least May 10 in accordance with the CDC, but remains committed to playing a full season.

And while fans of soccer in Utah are bracing for a long hiatus, it might be difficult at times.

“There’s definitely going to be moments where the gap of sports hits hard,” Parkinson said. “They are such an escape for me — different from shows or projects — and I hope they come back soon.”