Sandy • When Real Salt Lake built into the attacking third, there were cheers. When the referee made an unpopular call, there were boos. When RSL scored a goal, the “Believe” song played.
RSL played a game with fans watching for the first time since March 7, just a few days before the COVID-19 pandemic halted sports all over the world. While fans were required to wear masks and socially distance, and only 4,026 people attended the match in the 20,000-plus-capacity Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL’s 2-2 draw to the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday felt the most like a normal game since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It felt amazing to be honest,” defender Justen Glad, whose parents sat in a suite, said of having fans back at a home game. “After the goals, after a big tackle or anything like that, you can feel the energy and it gives the team a little more life.”
RSL’s first game with fans back in the stands was supposed to be last Wednesday against LAFC. But both teams chose not to play in support of other sports leagues not playing their games that day to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.
That decision set off a chain of events within the RSL organization that has resulted in Dell Loy Hansen deciding to sell the three Utah professional soccer teams, an investigation by Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League into alleged racist remarks by Hansen, and Chief Business Officer Andy Carroll taking a leave of absence due to an investigation into alleged sexist behavior and workplace misconduct by Carroll.
The game looked much like Saturday’s against Portland. RSL conceded goals to the Sounders only to equalize afterward. But Salt Lake goals came from unlikely sources in Glad and midfielder Pablo Ruiz.
Glad’s goal in the 50th minute knotted the game at 1-1. It was Glad’s first goal in four years.
“It’s overdue, to be fair,” Glad said of his goal. “It’‘s always a good feeling scoring and especially to help the team get a point feels good.”
Defender Aaron Herrera was called for a handball in the 28th minute when the ball appeared to bounce off his bicep in the box. Nicolás Lodeiro scored the penalty to give Seattle a 1-0 lead.
Glad equalized with his header off a corner kick, a sentence rarely typed because RSL is not known for its success on set pieces, and Glad had only two career goals in seven years with the club.
Yeimar Gómez came back in the 69th minute with a header off an undefended cross. Ruiz, who started his third consecutive game, ripped in a shot off a recycled corner kick in the 85th minute to secure the tie and the point in the standings.
RSL coach Freddy Juarez said he wished the team won the game for the fans who attended. He felt this team did enough to do that, but the nature of how RSL tied the game on two separate occasions roused the fans, which Juarez said got the team going.
Herrera said any time a team plays in front of fans — even ones rooting for the opposite team — there’s some extra motivation. And he definitely felt their presence Wednesday.
“Tonight it seemed like there were a lot more than [4,062], that’s for sure,” Herrera said. “They were loud.”