SANDY — Roughly three times per week over the past four years, Real Salt Lake's players have made the tiresome 20- to 25-minute commute to Lehi to practice on a field with a crown in often ridiculously cold and windy conditions.
Then, after some often grueling training sessions, the players would cram back in their cars allowing their muscles to tighten up for the drive to Rio Tinto Stadium or its previous locker room facility before the stadium opened.
The annoyance is almost over.
Real Salt Lake held a ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday in Sandy for America First Field, a state-of-the-art practice facility that will be an exact replica of the playing surface at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Located at 10000 South and just west of State Street, the field should be ready for use in the spring of 2012.
"We've been waiting a long time for it, I think our guys are ready," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "We know how important it is for our players to get into the training session and out of the training session as quickly as possible to prepare them for the weekends."
RSL founder Dave Checketts, co-owner Dell Loy Hansen, RSL president Bill Manning, Sandy City mayor Tom Dolan and American First Credit Union CEO Rick Craig were among those on hand for the announcement.
"It has been a long time, and we appreciate the patience of the coaches and we appreciate the patience of the players, but next summer you're going to be practicing on a world-class practice field that we can all call our home," said Manning.
American First Credit Union owns the land, and is leasing it to Real Salt Lake for at least the next five years. After a three-month process to prepare the site for 110,000-square feet of natural grass, the same seed that is at Rio Tinto Stadium will be planted at America First Field.
"It's important that you're training on a field that's the exact same size, it's important that you're training on a field that's the exact same grass, because different fields around the league play a little differently," said Kreis. "Typically ours plays pretty fast, so we would love to be on a surface that's exactly like the stadium and plays to the same speed."
At Xango Field in Lehi, and everywhere else Real Salt Lake has practiced through the years, that hasn't always been the case. Before Xango built RSL its current practice field in Lehi back in 2007, RSL practiced at variety of locations, including Rice-Eccles Stadium, a park in Vineyard, a park in Lehi, Waterford High School and Park City.
"We've trained in a lot of different places since I've been here. Dallas was the exact same situation, never really having a home," said Kreis. "So I'm looking very much forward to this being our training field, something we can really control."
Kreis admits that car pooling to practices with the assistant coaches over the years have been fun, but America First Field will be a massive upgrade.