Real Salt Lake: Rio Tinto already drawing record crowds
Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
SANDY — Real Salt Lake is in the midst of a crescendo, one fans will likely be talking about for years.
Forget about what just happened in Costa Rica and New England, Rio Tinto Stadium is where the real drama is unfolding.
It started with a Champions League quarterfinal drubbing of Columbus on March 1, followed by a convincing semifinal victory over Saprissa. Real Salt Lake then managed to one-up itself with an exhilarating 4-1 victory over David Beckham and the Galaxy in front of the biggest crowd in Rio Tinto Stadium history.
Here's the crazy thing — the fun is just beginning.
On Wednesday, Real Salt Lake hosts Colorado in a clash between the 2009 and 2010 MLS Cup champions. Some have touted it as the best rivalry in MLS, and there's no shortage of evidence to support the claim — remember when Dave Checketts and Pablo Mastroeni got into a shouting match at Rice-Eccles Stadium?
More recently, though, four of the past six meetings between the Rocky Mountain Cup rivals dating back to 2008 have featured a game-tying or game-winning goal in the 88th minute or later.
Wednesday's match has the potential to be the most exciting home game of the season, until April 27 that is.
That's when Real Salt Lake hosts Mexican club Monterrey in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final. If things go RSL's way, it will hoist a trophy afterward declaring it the best soccer club in North America, Central American and the Caribbean.
Through three of its Fab Five games to start the 2011 season, RSL is a perfect 3-0 and has outscored the opposition 10-2.
"I think we've earned our place in the sports community here in Utah," said RSL president Bill Manning.
For Manning, the foundation for such a dream start was laid last fall when the team committed itself entirely to the Champions League. Throughout group play and now in the knockout stages, Real Salt Lake made the regional club competition the No. 1 priority.
The fans have clearly bought in, and Manning said there's no better evidence than the show of support RSL received in the quarterfinals against Columbus on March 1.
On a chilly Tuesday night in which temperatures dipped into the 30s, 15,405 fans packed Rio Tinto Stadium — nearly doubling the expectations of Manning who originally only expected about 8,000 or 9,000 in attendance.
"That really sent a message to our players, to me, to our front office," said Manning. "We felt we had something last year, but that reminded us all that we have a connection here. Our fans are coming out, they get it. It was a raucous crowd that night."
Two weeks later with ominous storm clouds collecting along the Wasatch Front, 16,888 fans were not deterred as they poured into Rio Tinto Stadium to watch another convincing victory, a 2-0 triumph over Costa Rican club Saprissa.
Eleven days later Real Salt Lake brushed aside an overwhelmed Galaxy squad in front of a record crowd of 20,507.
It might be a short-lived record with the Monterrey match in two weeks already nearing a sell-out, according to Manning.
"I think this competition, frankly through our success, has opened up a lot of eyes in the soccer community, and the sports community here in Utah especially," said Manning. "But actually soccer fans around the country, too."
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