SANDY, Utah - U.S. Soccer revealed on March 21 that Rio Tinto Stadium would host a 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifying Match on Tuesday against CONCACAF rival Honduras, but this isn’t the first time the Beehive State has hosted Team USA. In 2005, Landon Donovan’s two goals dispatched Costa Rica 3-0 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in front of 40,586. Four years ago, the Red, White and Blue topped El Salvador 2-1 in front of 19,066 at the RioT, and now the Yanks are back again.
“The atmosphere was something different,” said RSL and USMNT fan Darin Hansen of the 2009 Qualifier. “I was very surprised with how many El Salvador fans showed up. I remember a couple of busses just pulling up to the stadium and a sea of blue jerseys behind, but luckily we were in the [U.S.] supporters’ section and we were able to feed off the energy.”
This time around the visitors may not be so lucky. Tuesday’s match sold out very quickly, and the RioT should be chock-full of American supporters. Fans credit Utah’s two previous qualifiers – and Real Salt Lake’s emergence – as helping build awareness for Tuesday’s game.
“I think people understand how big this game is and how important it is,” said Doug Jentzsch, who attended both the 2005 and 2009 qualifiers. “There’s a lot more participation, especially with social media. People are more aware of this game than last time.”
It also helps that Real Salt Lake jumped into the national spotlight by playing in high-profile matches. The 2009 MLS Cup champions rode its momentum to a 2011 runners-up campaign in the CONCACAF Champions League. In the final, the Claret-and-Cobalt hosted a second leg against Monterrey in a heartbreaking 1-0 loss, but the fixture brought much-needed exposure.
“I don’t know if it’s social media, I don’t know if it’s Real that has just grabbed Salt Lake City and inspired everyone to come out and support and believe,” said Hansen. “But I really think the growth of the sport has really taken off in the last five years. I really think that Tuesday is going to be a lot more intense and a lot more fun than it was even four years ago.”
“It’s great to see Real not only attract an MLS team, but getting on that global stage. That is what is going to propel the USMNT to come back,” added Jentzsch. “Real has really laid that foundation for the national team.”
The same could be said for Seattle Sounders FC, whose fans welcomed the Stars-and-Stripes with a U.S. soccer centennial tifo display, putting some added pressure on the Rio Tinto crowd to show up early and be loud on Tuesday.
“We do have that pride that we’re a soccer crowd now too,” Jentzsch said. “You know you could say, ‘Hey that was great, but we can do it better.’”
“I really think that this is an opportunity to establish ourselves and our community and our stadium as home turf and home field advantage and a place that they’ll continue to comeback to,” Hansen said.
The U.S. Men’s National team kicks off against Honduras Tuesday at 7:00. The game can be watched on ESPN and listened to on 99.1 FM. Rio Tinto Stadium hosts another Stars-and-Stripes home game on Saturday, July 13, against Cuba in the first of a doubleheader with Costa Rica and Belize as the nightcap of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Tickets for the Gold Cup doubleheader are on sale at the Rio Tinto Stadium box office, online at www.RioTintoStadium.com or over the phone at 801-727-2700.