“I never thought they would come to Utah.”
This was the mindset of most Utah soccer devotees - until today. Everything changed when the footballers of Manchester United stepped foot in Utah for the very first time.
Fathers and sons, college roommates, season ticket holders, even fans who grew up across the pond, have all made the trek to Rio Tinto Stadium to see Manchester United take on Real Salt Lake. The excitement is buzzing, and the friendly is a chance for many to see the most popular team in the world play in their own backyard.
College roommates from the University of Colorado, John Dressel and Lalo Herrera drove eight hours from Boulder just to see their favorite Manchester United players take the Rio Tinto pitch.
“I want to see Pogba, Lukaku, Rashford - the whole first team,” Dressel said. “In previous summers, they don’t bring all of the A-squad, and to see them all here was the biggest appeal for us to drive this far.”
Even those Manchester United fans who live in the Wasatch region would never turn down an opportunity to see their favorite international team.
“I’ve been watching Manchester United for thirty-five years and never thought I’d see them in person, in my own state of Utah,” said Robert Hearst, an RSL season ticket holder. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me, and for the whole state.”
MLS fans are happy teams in the league even get a opportunity to see such top international powers travel to America and play teams from their own league.
“Being from the United States, I want to see the MLS grow,” Herrera said. “Seeing MLS players out on the field with the best players in the world is great.”
Chris Riley, a Utah resident of twenty years who grew up in Rochdale, England, nine miles northeast of Manchester, has been to both United and RSL games. His reaction may appear as a surprise to many, but he says the energy in the 20,000 seat Rio Tinto Stadium is a great deal like the historic 75,000 seated Old Trafford, the largest football stadium in England.
“The soccer in this country is getting to the level it can get,” Riley said. “Looking at the turnout in the line right now, I feel like I’m twelve years again being at Old Trafford.”
Riley has been waiting twenty years to watch his childhood team play again, spending two months trying to land tickets for the friendly against RSL, and he could not be more elated.
“I’ve been taking pictures of my boys and sending them back to my family in England,” Riley said. “I don’t want to be one-sided, I just want to see a good game with goals.”
“For me, this is a dream come true."