ROAD TRIP
An extremely LONG story about our Road Trip to RSL
Benjamin Kowalsky
Oct 7th 2010

The Rapids took a point on the road at Rio Tinto Stadium, the hardest place to get a result in all of MLS. The game itself was a fantastic display of defensive and offensive soccer. Jason Kreis showed the entire MLS that his system of attractive, attacking soccer works no matter what side he decides to field. Gary Smith showed the entire MLS that his Rapids side has the grit and determination to not only whether the offensive assault and unmatched forward movement of Real Salt Lake, but also to counter-attack with fantastic effect.

Whatís more: Gary Smith showed that his side could hold a lead against RSL up until the very last gasps of the game. Nearly snapping the reigning champs winning streak and their record for most minutes in shutout all in the same match.

I was thrilled to be there. RSL and Rapids was the jewel of the weekend for anyone who loves soccer, and for anyone who still needs to be convinced of the viability of the American on-field product. Granted, more eyes were turned towards the Home Depot Center to watch the two teams with the deepest pockets in MLS tangle, but the two clubs known for their (shall we say) frugality put on a fantastic show that had the capacity crowd at Rio Tinto in rapture.

Itís difficult for me to be objective, in the case of the Rapids against RSL. But as I said in my last entry: I refuse to say that RSL sucks. And they showed their depth and their fantastic football on the pitch that wonderful Saturday evening. Even fielding a side that wasnít made of Kreisí preferred starting 11... they pulled out a last minute goal which preserved their undefeated streak.

Some critics will say that if one isnít playing attacking soccer, then one isnít playing any kind of attractive soccer. Like the only kind of soccer that can be appreciated is the one that is constantly on the attack or making beautiful passes or whatever else Arsenal fans say is the reason they hate Chelsea this week. I think the whole thing is ridiculous: a team must adjust in a complete understanding of both the opponentís strengths and their own weaknesses. In which case, why would the Rapids ever try to beat RSL at their own game in their own house?

Sorry, that point just bugs me. Against an offensive machine like RSL: Defend, Defend, Defend, Counterattack. Else youíre a stubborn Frenchman who wouldnít compromise his vision of ďperfect soccerĒ in order to get a result.

Thatís enough about the match. A match the Rapids were supposed to lose. And I donít mean that lightly. I didnít do a stats analysis pre-match because it was just depressing. I was also tired and slightly drunk. By all metrics the Rapids were supposed to lose and lose badly. They didnít. And thatís a bit due to Kreisí focus being on the CCL, a bit to good tactics, and a bit to the inspired performances of the players.

Letís talk about the Bulldogís trip to RSL, from my own perspective. Identities have not been hidden to protect the innocent. On this trip: there were no innocent.

I donít own a car. I live in Boulder and I donít have to pay for public transit due to my occupation. On most days, I love this fact. I donít ever pay for gas. I donít have to pay for insurance. And most especially: I donít have to pay to maintain a 1996 Ford Taurus for the constant attention it needs (am I right, Ford owners? COME ON). I had to take the last bus out of Boulder on Friday night to get to my Beloved Bulldog. Of course, we all know the rules: 2AM and Iím out. The bus was picking us up at 4AM. I thought I was going to have 2 hours to kill in downtown Denver (a not entirely unenviable position).

Richard showed up. Great guy. We talked soccer for a while. About the upcoming match. About the trip ahead. Forget came in later and said we could stay until the bus came. Which was fantastic. Never been locked in a bar before. Forget said Richard and I could hang in the back and watch the Red Bull New York v Galaxy match. It was a good match. Mehdi was there, and he played well, and I got all nostalgic (more on me, Forget, and Mehdi later).

Incidentally, if Mehdi scored a triple hat-trick against like... Arsenal, Iím convinced Forget would STILL find some reason to say he sucks.

We helped Forget bring out what was enough Great Divide beer to feed not just a small army, but a large army the size of which could probably topple some kind of island nation and establish a pretty excellent and fairly long lasting military junta. World domination aside: this was a lot of beer. No joke, people.

And I have to thank the Rapids FO for sponsoring us to take the trip. Not many FOís in the MLS would sponsor their fans in going to a rival game. That was a really fantastic gesture.

Now get us a DP.

Just kidding guys. Just keep us drunk enough so that we donít care anymore.

We boarded the bus and got underway at about 4:30AM, in the pitch black of the wee hours of the morning. The Bobbies were out in full force, as well as some members of the P.I.D. Army. The trip started as anyone would expect: with much needed bus sleep. I hate sleeping while sitting up, by the way, because when my head rolls off to the side I wake up immediately. Just throwing that out there. The Rapids also provided us with really nice little fleece blankets for the trip. I use this blanket now as a net to catch my cat. Thought you could use that information.

The trip was long, and regretfully I slept through most of Wyoming. Wyoming is a beautiful and empty state. I could picture seeing a town whose claim to fame is ďwe have a McDonaldísĒ. Reminds me of the smaller shoreline towns in Connecticut where I grew up. Yes, thatís right. I compared the high desert to the East Coast shore. Thatís called writing.

We got to our hotels, got settled, and then went about finding some food. Salt Lake City both exceeded and deflated my expectations. So I suppose we broke even there. I expected that I wouldnít be able to get above 3.2% beer, and I was wrong about this. The beer in Salt Lake City, to be sure, is wretched. Fans of Real Salt Lake may say similar things about Colorado beer, but they havenít a leg to stand on. Iím not saying this as trash-talk, but as empirical fact. Salt Lake City beer is a sort of bi-polar affair: it is the sort that someone drinks when they are in either a state of extreme depression (and thus cannot be brought down any lower by the terrible beer) or a state of extreme euphoria (and thus couldnít be brought down by anything, which makes it ideal beer for the Dalai Lama and Wells Thompson).

Since the result at Rio Tinto made me feel neither of these, it still stands that Salt Lake City beer tasted terrible. And I clung desperately to the bottled Great Divide as if it were a scuba tank of goodness in an ocean of mediocrity-at-best.

We arrived to the Stadium a few hours early. A few of the RSL supporters from Section 26, who were lovely, wanted to challenge some of our supporters to a friendly game of soccer up at a field. I declined the invitation for several reasons:

I was drunk.

I was tired.

The only way I could see this game being amusing was if some fun were had mostly at my expense.

meeehhhhh

But some heroic Bobbies set off to do battle. Meanwhile, I believe I held down the fort equally as heroically. I mean, Iím not going to win any medals or anything, but I did open some beers for some people. And I donít see me getting any credit for that. Unsung heroes, people. They exist.

We ended the match well and soundly beaten and possibly even a bit humiliated by the RSL supportersí team. Which, one would almost swear by the scoreline (8-0), contained nothing but RSL First Team hopefuls. Congratulations to Section 26 for putting it all together, and we really look forward to seeing you (read: beating you) on the pitch this October. Class bunch, them.

Beer was drunk. Songs were sung. Pizza was eaten. Balls were kicked around. Then someone busted out WANGO.

WANGO is the name I had for the pinata lion that was being trotted around. It was wearing a replica of the RSL shirt, but with WANGO instead of XANGO on there, hence the name. Props to the Pid Army (who have generously made their name a constant reminder of Pelvic Inflamatory Disorder) for making WANGO and trucking him all the way out to Salt Lake City, just to have him beaten to a pulp by children trying to get at his tasty candy innards.

MMM murder.

Then the time came to march into Rio Tinto. The Bobbies chanted at the top of our lungs on our way in. Salt Lake fans may jeer that they ďcouldnít hear usĒ, but that is surely just a jeer. The Bobbies and the Pid Army were heard and seen on the way in, on the way up to our stands, and throughout the glorious spectacle of soccer that would follow. I already gave you my thoughts on the game itself. Fantastic. Still gives me chills.

Now, no rivalry would be complete without a bit of hooliganism. It happens, and you hope that itís just jibes being thrown back and forth. You hope for the best and at the very least you hope for as few trips to the hospital as possible. I am pleased to note that no one went to the hospital. And as for damage to property... I canít say. I have to say that the majority of Salt Lake fans showed remarkable courtesy and restraint. Given that itís never nice to have a large group of out of town fans from your rival club show up and make a lot of ruckus, most of you took it in good humor and realized that regardless of what happens off the pitch between supporters: we come together for what happens on the pitch with the players we support.

After the tie, we headed back on the buses for a night on the town. I wonít go into too much detail of what happened (mostly because I donít remember a lot of it) but hereís one portion I do remember. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you an argument with Drunk Forget:

Me (to bartender): Iíll have a Shirley Temple, please.*

Drunk Forget: BEN. MEHDI IS GONE. GET OVER IT.

Me: What?

Drunk Forget: IíM SO SICK OF YOUíRE COMPLAINING.

Me: But I didnít say anything.

Drunk Forget: DAMN STRAIGHT YOU DIDNíT. CUZ IF YOU DID. YOUíD BE A...

Me: ...a Mehdi-Lover?

Drunk Forget: YEAH. IF YOU LOVE HIM SO MUCH, WHY DONíT YOU JUST MARRY HIM OR SOMETHING?

Me: YEAH WHY DONíT I?

Drunk Forget: BECAUSE GAY MARRIAGE IS ILLEGAL!

....

(twenty minutes later)

Drunk Forget: OH MY GOD CAN WE STOP TALKING ABOUT MEHDI BALLOUCHY?!?

No Drunk Forget, we canít stop talking about Mehdi Ballouchy.

We got up the next morning and went home to the glorious state of Colorado. Where I had to take another bus to get back to Boulder. It was the trip of a lifetime. Salt Lake City is a strange place, man. And I canít wait to go back next year.

Hopefully, we will have TWO bus full of people, and a MLS Championship in our hands.

Country Roads...You know the rest.

*Look, I wanted to start my night out slow. The funny part about it was that normally, when you order a Shirley Temple at a bar, the bartender gives you a weird look. At THIS bar in downtown Salt Lake City however, the guy not only did not give me any weird looks, but he flat out apologized for the lack of cherries available for the Shirley Temple. Apparently, there was a run on them earlier in the evening.

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