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Real Salt Lake’s ownership nightmare is over, now club can begin rehabilitation

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Real Salt Lake‘s ownership nightmare is finally over. Seventeen months after then-owner Dell Loy Hansen was found to have made racist comments, and overseen a misogynistic, toxic work environment, MLS and RSL announced that Blackstone Group executive David Blitzer and Ryan Smith’s Smith Entertainment Group have purchased the team and its associated properties. This includes MLS NEXT Pro side the Real Monarchs, Rio Tinto Stadium as well as the team’s training facility and academy in Herriman, Utah.

According to a report by Sportico, the total outlay will be just under $400 million. Arctos Sports Partners also has a minority stake.

As MLS commissioner Don Garber lounged with the two new RSL owners from a suite at Salt Lake City’s Vivint Arena on Wednesday, his gratitude in having Blitzer and Smith on board was evident. RSL has a local owner in Smith, owner of the NBA’s Utah Jazz. For Blitzer, RSL is the latest acquisition in an ever-expanding sports portfolio, one that includes ownerships stakes in the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. He also owns parts of Premier League side Crystal Palace, FC Augsburg of the Bundesliga and Belgian top-flight side Waasland-Beveren.

But beyond the duo’s undeniably deep pockets, and pro sports experience, Garber senses there is a changing of the guard in MLS ownership ranks.

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“Generationally, this is what the future of MLS is going to be about,” said Garber on a Zoom call that included Smith and Blitzer. “You have an owner in David who’s thinking about the sport on a global basis through an American lens. And with Ryan you have one of the more successful tech entrepreneurs in the industry, getting involved in pro sports, now making the decision to get involved in Major League Soccer. It’s perfect, and it’s a good ending to what’s been a challenging situation.”

For years, RSL punched above its weight both on and field and in the stands. It’s made 11 postseason appearances in its 17-year history, winning one MLS Cup, despite a salary-cap figure in the bottom third of the league in 2021. Those successes were almost fatally undermined by the damage Hansen wrought. So for Smith and Blitzer, the timing was perfect.

Blitzer recalled how when he returned to the U.S. 10 years ago after a stint living in Europe, one of the first people he talked to was Garber. The idea even then was to find a way to invest in MLS. He said he looked at a variety of situations over the years, but RSL was the right one.

“I say that because number one I’ve met Ryan, and the ability for he and I to do this together in this market is just a win-win-win,” Blitzer said. “So I start really broadly, which is I’m a huge believer in the sport globally. I’m a huge believer in what Don and his team are doing with the MLS. I’m a huge believer with where soccer is going within our country. This market is fantastic and growing, and to have a partner like Ryan to be able to do it with, it’s just all came together and worked out really well.”

From the very beginning of RSL’s ownership saga, Smith — a graduate of nearby Brigham Young University — seemed a natural fit to buy into the team. But in October of 2020, Smith purchased the Jazz, seemingly taking him out of the running.

“That’s a little bit of an undertaking,” he quipped about his purchase of the Jazz. But Smith and Blitzer soon found themselves on a lot of the same NBA owner calls, and two months ago, with RSL still available, the opportunity brought them together.

“We had a little bit of a better handle on what we were doing with our group,” said Smith. “Our group from the Jazz was like, ‘Yeah, we’re all in on Utah. We’re all in on soccer. And we’re all in on doing this.’ And so it’s kind of interesting that we’re both here, checking our phones on NBA games, and here together. So that’s really kind of the bond that brought him in.”

When asked if he intends to create a Red Bull-like soccer empire with his stake in four different clubs, or whether the teams would remain totally separate, Blitzer said his approach will be somewhere in the middle.

“Being able to think about scouting across the globe, doing that out of one organization regardless of what country that organization is located in, is really hard,” he said. “When you can play that across six, seven, eight teams, it just becomes so much more powerful. So talent identification, player development, the ability to move players and see different environments, etc., I just think it’s a benefit to all.”

RSL likely won’t be the last team that Blitzer acquires. An RSL spokesperson told ESPN that the organization has an option to bring an NWSL team back to the city in either 2023 or 2024. The Utah Royals, at one time part of the RSL organization, were sold and moved to Kansas City in late 2020.

“Our intention is to have [a women’s] team back here,” said Smith. Blitzer added, “We think it’s a ‘when,’ not ‘if.’ We would intend to bring an NWSL team to this marketplace and we’re excited to do that.”

The remit of Smith and Blitzer won’t be just about the on-field product. There is an organizational culture to rehabilitate as well. It helps that interim team president John Kimball has spent the past 16 months doing just that, meaning that the two new RSL owners will not be starting from scratch. But there remains work to do.

“I think Ryan and I both care very deeply about all the organizations that we’re in,” said Blitzer. “I can say nothing other than I feel like both of us are huge culture people, and we’re really excited to continue and grow this team in this market.”

The proof will come over time, although the two are already well versed in developing cultures within their respective organizations. For the present, Smith and Blitzer will benefit from simply not being Hansen. But at least now, Real Salt Lake is in the position where it can generate some forward momentum once again.



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USMNT’s Paul Arriola joins FC Dallas from D.C. United in MLS-record deal

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United States national team winger Paul Arriola was acquired by FC Dallas from D.C. United on Wednesday for a Major League Soccer record of $2 million in general allocation money.

D.C. will receive $1.5 million this year and $500,000 in 2023, plus up to $300,000 in conditional future GAM based on performance.

D.C. would receive 30% of any transfer fee if Arriola moves outside of MLS.

“I’m super excited to be joining FC Dallas and starting a new journey with this club,” Arriola said in a release. “Coming to Dallas will be a great step in my career as it will continue to help me build towards my professional goals. I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces and I can’t wait to get to work with my new teammates and staff.”

The 26-year-old has 20 goals in 89 regular-season matches since joining D.C. from Tijuana in 2017.

Arriola missed most of 2020 because of a torn right ACL and played three games with Swansea during the second half of the 2020-21 season before a quadriceps injury.

Arriola has eight goals in 42 international appearances. He is training with the U.S. ahead of three World Cup qualifiers.



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Official: FC Dallas acquire Paul Arriola in MLS-record trade from DC United

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The deal is worth $2 million in General Allocation Money up front, as well as a potential additional $300,000 GAM in performance-based incentives. DCU retain a 30% sell-on clause if Arriola is transferred outside of MLS.

Arriola, 26, made 89 MLS appearances with D.C. United as a Designated Player after being acquired from Liga MX’s Club Tijuana in 2017. He had 20 goals and 16 assists with the Black-and-Red while becoming a USMNT mainstay, making 42 appearances to date. Arriola is currently with the USMNT preparing for three Concacaf World Cup qualifiers over the next week.

“To have a player like Paul Arriola come to FC Dallas is really an amazing thing,” FCD president Dan Hunt said in a release. “Very few players have a resume like he does at the age of 26. He’s also an incredible locker room guy. You don’t get to captain the US national team if you’re not of the highest caliber and a great professional who works hard and has the admiration of his teammates and the coaching staff. We’re thrilled to welcome Paul to Dallas.”

“We want to thank Paul for his commitment and service to the club since he arrived in 2017,” D.C. United general manager Lucy Rushton said in a release. “He has been an integral player for our team and has been a model professional both on and off the field. We wish him luck in the next chapter of his career in Dallas.”





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DeAndre Yedlin is officially available

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DeAndre Yedlin is officially back on the market after Galatasaray announced that the Seattle native was no longer with the team. It had been previously reported that Yedlin was going to accept a buyout.

Yedlin ended up spending less than a year in Turkey, making 27 appearances and 24 starts in league play for one of the country’s biggest clubs. After helping nearly win the Turkish Süper Lig in his first season and falling just short of Champions League qualification, Galatasaray has slumped to 14th about midway through this season. Yedlin had started 15 of 23 games so far.

It’s not entirely clear what’s next for Yedlin. Last week, there was reporting that he was close to returning to MLS, with Inter Miami being the most likely destination. Not only does Miami have a personal connection with Yedlin through Chris Henderson, but they also hold the top spot in the Allocation Order and are in need of a right back. But Yedlin’s agent publicly disputed reports that a signing was imminent.

Around the same time, reports surfaced that Yedlin was in talks with Hull City about potentially returning to England. Hull are currently 19th in the EFL Championship, nine points clear of the relegation zone. Hull are also run by Tan Kesler, who helped bring Yedlin to Galatasaray last summer while working as an agent.

In the meantime, Yedlin remains with the United States men’s national team for a trio of World Cup qualifiers.



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