Here are three observations of Real Salt Lake’s 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City from beat writer Alex Vejar.
1. A snowy final game
Fall in Utah can sometimes look more like winter, and Sunday evening was the epitome of that. Before RSL and SKC kicked off their final game of the 2020 season, the field was so covered in snow that none of the field’s lines were visible.
As play started, the players running and the temperature helped melt much of the snow. But for most of the second half, as the night got colder, more snow dumped on the athletes and the 2,770 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium and stayed on the field.
Needless to say, the conditions made the game a slog for both Salt Lake and Sporting.
“The tactics go out the window,” coach Freddy Juarez said. “It just becomes a grind and take advantage of opportunities.”
SKC took advantage of theirs and put away two goals.
The snowy weather even affected RSL goalkeeper David Ochoa, who is from California and had never experienced snow before moving to Utah to play for the academy.
“This is actually my first game playing in the snow,” Ochoa said. “It was very strange. Obviously it kind of made my job a little more difficult, so I had to be more tuned in for that — just the flight of the ball, how it bounced on the snow.”
Ochoa said he hopes he won’t have to play in those kinds of conditions again, but he’ll be prepared if he does.
2. Saying goodbye to Nedum Onuoha
Onuoha played his last soccer game Sunday. There was an outpouring of support for the past few days, and RSL’s social channels were filled with tributes for the defender. He played 63 minutes against Sporting Kansas City.
Onuoha played 16 years of pro soccer, but it’s his impact off the field that likely generated all the love. He’s intelligent, thoughtful and candid — traits reporters appreciate. So instead of talking about Onuoha the soccer player, let’s delve a little into Onuoha the journalism subject.
First of all, Onuoha is a great quote. Ask him anything, and he’ll be real with you and you’ll get a good nugget out of it. He is not the type of athlete who gives short answers. He puts what the says into context so you have very little chance of misinterpreting him.
Onuoha was also willing to engage in some silliness. After a game last season when I asked Damir Kreilach about one of his goals and how he “raised up like a salmon” (according to Brian Dunseth), Onuoha interjected and made a joke. That exchange made it into a story because, if nothing else, it was fun.
I also appreciated that Onuoha gave me the details of how and why he chose to pay some money to a large amount of the workers RSL furloughed due to the pandemic. He didn’t want to create any controversy, but it was a good story and one I felt was important and should be told. So he agreed to talk to me about it. The story blew up, and so many people got a glimpse of the kind of human he is.
Yes, sports writing is about sports. But it’s really about telling stories about people. And for whatever reason, some people are just not conducive to compelling journalism. But Onuoha was. Whether it was the furlough payments, or him opening up about experiencing racism in his career, or his podcast, Onuoha was willing to share his story.
And for that, I am grateful.
3. A look at RSL awards
RSL announced its team awards shortly after the game. To be clear, these aren’t awards voted on by the league or media. They’re just internal. So in the grand scheme, they don’t mean much.
But to the players themselves and the club at large, they mean plenty. So let’s see who won.
Kreilach was named MVP and also won the Golden Boot for scoring the most goals on the team (eight). Two of those goals were game-winners.
Kreilach deserves the MVP nod. He was one of the few players who performed consistently throughout the season and he’s become one of the veteran leaders. It also doesn’t hurt to score goals on a team that struggled so mightily all season to do so.
Aaron Herrera was named Defender of the Year. Also deserving. He’s not only a very good defender, but he works his butt off every game and has to navigate the added responsibility of getting into the attack and creating scoring opportunities.
Herrera improved in the attacking aspect this season. But it’s difficult to do both, and he did both very effectively.
Kyle Beckerman was again named the team’s Humanitarian of the Year. He is intimately involved with the community and has been for years, so this award really couldn’t and shouldn’t go to anyone else.