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RSL fans return to Rio Tinto Stadium after tumultuous week

Posted at 10:50 PM, Sep 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-03 00:50:36-04

SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake fans cheered on their team Wednesday evening in person, for the first time since the start of COVID-19. It was also the first time since the news that owner Dell Loy Hansen is going to sell the team, following allegations against Hansen and top executive Andy Carroll.

Fans arrived at Rio Tinto, ready to see RSL for the first time, in a long time.

"I'm here to support my team," said fan Chandler Van Beuge. "I've been a die-hard. I always love them."

"We're going to be cheering as loud as we can to try to make up for all the people who aren't here who want to be here," Kent Jones said, referencing the limited COVID-19 capacity of 5,000 fans. "We're just excited to see them play,"

For some of them-- this was the second time they showed up to Rio Tinto in a one week span. This time, they had a lot on their minds.

"It's been crazy," fan Mark Shepherd said. "There are so many changes going on. You start with the game getting canceled last week."

The intense week snowballed after the postponed RSL vs. LAFC game last week, which started as a way for players to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

The next morning, owner Dell Loy Hansen took to the radio airwaves to voice his obvious displeasure at the move. His comments drew criticism, including from RSL players. Hours later, he retracted his statements and apologized.

But then RSL employees and other employees under companies owned by Dell Loy Hansen began to step forward, with allegations of racist statements and comments. That led to an MLS investigation and Hansen announced a leave of absence from the club.

By Sunday morning, Hansen announced he was selling the team.

The issues didn't stop with Hansen. This week, other current and past employees made accusations of a toxic work culture, and misconduct by Chief Business Officer Andy Carroll.

Carroll, too, took a leave from RSL-- and also found himself the center of an MLS investigation.

It has certainly been a lot to digest for fans.

"That's just some major changes for a team to go through. We're already sitting in the middle of covid, so you know 5,000 fans out of 20-some-odd thousand, it just puts things in a really weird situation," Shepherd said. "And yet, I think it's honestly good. I think it's an opportunity for this team to get back to who they are, to make some major changes."

Fans like Jones are wondering what's in store for the future of RSL.

"We bought season tickets to be a part of this program," Jones said. "We are concerned now about the future of the program, and are we still going to involved here? We hope so."

"If there's got to be a cleansing of bad, so that you can have nothing but good-- especially with a good team with Real-- get rid of the bad," fan Kendal Woodgate said. "Bring in the good."

Fans got more news Wednesday: A familiar face is returning to lead the organization.

John Kimball, one of RSL's founders and former executive, who is now the president of Vivint Arena, is stepping in as the interim president of Utah Soccer.

This means he's taking a leave from Larry H. Miller Sports and Entertainment.

Could that point to a potential deal in the works to purchase the team?

RSL and LHMSE couldn't confirm that to Fox 13 Wednesday.

"Him coming in as the interim president of Real Salt Lake feels like a pretty strong signal that the Larry H. Miller group is not only interested, but probably the front runner in purchasing the RSL organization," said RSL Soapbox writer Lucas Muller.

Muller explained it's possible we could see a new partnership involving LHMSE and others who have expressed interest.

"That has kind of an essence of best of both worlds," Muller said. "Where you might get some fresh blood in the Utah sports scene, some people with some soccer knowledge, but also you've got the significant resources of the Larry H. Miller group. They know sports better than anyone in the state, they've done a really good job of working with the community and making the Jazz just kind of a pillar of the Salt Lake Valley."

He indicated that it's hard to know when a deal could be made. He said Hansen has six months per the MLS constitution to sell, before the league would step in and do it for Hansen.

"It's going to be really fascinating to see how quickly this all moves along," Muller said. "But [Hansen] has said that he wants to sell to a local ownership group, and I think that's what fans want to see as well."

It certainly is what fans want to see.

"I just hope we stay here in Utah and we get some good management, and everything works out," Van Beuge said.

As the organization shakeup continues to shake out, on Wednesday night fans said they just wanted to come and support the team-- and watch soccer.

"Just us being here, should say a lot to the team that we're here for them," Shepherd said. "We're not here for management. We're not here for money. We're here for soccer."

Oh, and of course-- "We need to win," Woodgate said, with a laugh. "That's what I'm thinking about. We need to win."

RSL ended Wednesday night's game tied 2-2 with the Seattle Sounders.