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Brad Rock: As 10th season begins, RSL still 'on goal'

SANDY — With the Jazz out of playoff contention and the colleges having one-and-done themselves out of the postseason, Real Salt Lake accomplished on Saturday what it always wanted: it owned the town. The Jazz, who hosted Orlando, are playing to sparse crowds, as they limp to the long offseason. BYU, Weber State, Utah Valley and Utah were out of their postseason tournaments before they could unpack their socks.

Entering its 10th season, RSL is promoting the devil out of its chances again this year, after getting a result in its first three matches.

Step right up, folks, and see ‘em from the start.

Actually, there are only a few that have been in the organization since the birth of RSL. One is Brian Dunseth, who was playing in Sweden when he saw the announcement that Salt Lake was getting a Major League Soccer team.

“I’m going to be part of that club,” he told his girlfriend.

Next day he got an email from coach John Ellinger.

But he was more than just part of it. He scored the first home goal in club history, hurtling in from the left and heading home the shot.

“It was a weird, surreal moment,” Dunseth said. “I just launched myself and in midair I told myself, ‘Keep it on goal! Keep it on goal!’”

That’s been Real’s approach ever since.

Dunseth tore his labrum, but it didn’t keep him from uprooting the corner flag and emphatically replanting it.

“It was just kind of a symbolic We’re here!” he said.

A sold-out stadium of 20,466 at Saturday's 1-1 draw couldn’t have agreed more.

It wasn’t a flawless performance or a perfect day. After Joao Plata dropped a perfect pass to Alvaro Saborio in the 19th minute for the lead, Los Angeles replied in the 34th when Robbie Keane struck.

The game was filled with delays due to injury, both real and imagined. Plata did leave in the 35th minute, gripping his hamstring, while L.A.’s A.J. DeLaGarza bowed out with a damaged knee. Due to the scraping needed to clear snow, last year, the pitch was spotty and uneven — same as the officiating. Still, that didn’t stop Dunseth from declaring the day a victory. Though there were 25,287 fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium in 2005, when the team first played, this was a different congregation. Then it was a few soccer-starved fans and a lot of curiosity seekers, rattling around a 45,000-seat football stadium. Now it’s a hard-core group that mostly doesn’t care what night the Jazz, Utes or Cougars are playing.

“Looking at the old-crony feel for this town, it’s always going to be the Jazz — and I don’t mean it in a disrespectful way,” Dunseth said. “But I think this thing that is going on right now has the potential to be gigantic.”

He went on to say that superstars will break a city’s heart in some sports, moving on to the next opportunity in nowhere in particular. Like, oh, Los Angeles.

“”We don’t necessarily need the Robbie Keanes, we’ve got Alvaro Saborio,” he said. “We don’t need the Landon Donovans, we’ve got the Javier Moraleses. We don’t need the Omar Gonzalezes, we’ve got the Nat Borchers.”

Because he has done commentary for NBC, ESPN, Fox Sports and the Pac-12 Network, Dunseth said he has been in a lot of other locker rooms, but only one or two MLS teams have the same feel.

At the same time, he admits that 10 seasons after RSL’s introduction at sightline-challenged Rice-Eccles, Utahns are no longer content just to have a team. So they came in droves on to see first-year head coach Jeff Cassar’s home debut. They booed when a call went against them and grumbled when a missed chance occurred.

They acted like they expected a win.

“Today was a huge step for them,” Dunseth said.

The flag he planted was still in place.

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