During the second half of the Real Salt Lake home opener, the large crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium got their first glimpse of the latest export coming out of Trinidad. Wearing the jersey with the name 'TIGER' on his back, Leslie Fitzpatrick brought an extra level of energy to the historic game for RSL.
Two weeks later, in Real's 2-2 draw against the Earthquakes, the RSL fans became quite aware of what Fitzpatrick could bring to the club's attack as he started wide on the right as part of a five-man midfield. The Trinidad and Tobago international moved with the ball as if it were tied to a string dancing around defenders, taking players on and holding the ball out wide so that his teammates could get into space.
"I think it's our natural style in the Caribbean and I guess the Central American style, maybe a little bit of an African way," Fitzpatrick said.
When he was five years old, a friend gave him the name of Tiger because of his aggressive play on the field, and the name stuck with him all the way through high school and into college. It returned while playing for the Atlanta Silverbacks in the USL First Division last season, and the familiar alias has followed Fitzpatrick through his transfer to RSL.
"Once you reconnect with people who know you as Tiger it comes back," said Fitzpatrick. "The first game (with RSL) when I had it on my shirt I guess it was a little bit of a hit, so I guess it's here to stay."
Tiger enjoyed his time in Atlanta, where he became a valuable part of the Silverbacks squad. The USL club didn't want to immediately let go of such a talent, but the deal was eventually made that allowed Tiger to join up with fellow countryman Marlon Rojas with Real.
"I had a great time in Atlanta, they were awesome," said Fitzpatrick. "But this is definitely the right step for my career.
"Competing day in and day out with the likes of Eddie (Pope), Clint (Mathis), Jason (Kreis), and then competing every week with some of the top guys like Landon (Donovan) that I've played against with the national team, really gives you a chance to sharpen yourself and stay on your toes."
Fitzpatrick said he felt his performance for Trinidad & Tobago in a World Cup qualifying match against the USA in February was a distinguishing factor in attracting the interest of a Major League Soccer team like Real Salt Lake.
"That game in particular is the one that sold me a lot to the league," said Fitzpatrick. "Because I knew John [Ellinger] and those guys were interested but it still had not been known if I could step up to play at the highest level. Playing against the U.S. and having a great game definitely helped to sell myself."
With his new team, Tiger is adjusting to the fluctuating weather patterns and high altitude of his surroundings. Before joining RSL he had never been to Utah, but is enjoying getting to know his new home high in the Rocky Mountains.
"It's real scenic. The mountains, the snow caps and all that," said Fitzpatrick. "[Salt Lake] is a beautiful city, the guys are great, and everyone has been real helpful. I've had a great time since I've been out here."
This weekend RSL will travel to Carson, Calif., to face expansion counterpart Chivas USA. Even though Chivas have yet to find a win this season Tiger knows that it will not be an easy match.
"They're going to be dangerous because their backs are against the wall. They haven't had a win as yet. They had one tie and a couple losses. The games were close. It wasn't like they were blow outs, for the most part," he said.
"What we need to do is get on them early and not give up the early goals like we've been doing. We've been putting our backs against the wall and that's what we need to try to avoid, especially this weekend."
With the wide pitch of The Home Depot Center, there should be plenty of space for Tiger to add a creative spark to an already dangerous RSL attack that is beginning to find its form.