A (somewhat) fond farewell — Real Salt Lake prepares for final Rice-Eccles game

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 17 2008 12:16 a.m. MDT

Real Salt Lake got a chance to host Real Madrid, featuring soccer icon David Beckham, at Rice-Eccles Stadium in 2006.

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The end of an era is approaching for Real Salt Lake.

Rice-Eccles Stadium was the first home for the expansion Major League Soccer franchise that began playing in 2005. It has seen some good times — Real won its home-opener and boasts an undefeated 7-0-5 mark there this season — along with the bad — an overall losing record of 15-19-13 coming into the 2008 season. With its new soccer-specific stadium set to open next month in Sandy, Saturday's game against Chivas USA marks the last time RSL will play on the University of Utah campus.

"I will probably shed a tear," joked coach Jason Kreis, who played 2 1/2 years there before moving into the head coaching position. "It's a good thing, for sure, to be finally moving out of there and into our own place. You can make complaints about the surface or complaints about this, that or the other, but for me, it was a good place. I really felt like the fans came there and they were close enough to make a difference. I look back at all the games there and feel like our fans have been fantastic."

Each player has his own memories of the venue — some good, some not so good.

"Turf," said Clint Mathis of the first thing he thought when reminiscing about the stadium. "My mom said if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. No, it's not that bad. As a soccer player, you want your own home, and you definitely want to play on grass as far as your body goes. But it was nice to have some type of stadium to play in where we could bring professional soccer to this market. At the same time, I am excited to say goodbye to it and move into our own home.

"I wish I could say I had better memories of playing there that first year, but it was not a great season for me or for the team. I will really just remember all of the struggles we went through," Mathis added.

The artificial playing surface was almost always one of the first things brought up by opponents after suffering a defeat at the hands of RSL. The funny bounces, the speed, the impact on joints and the wear and tear on a body were always on the minds of players. At least, until they got into the action of a game.

"It really isn't that bad until you start to think about it, that's when it really beats up on your body," said goalkeeper Nick Rimando of playing on the artificial turf. "When you are playing the game, you don't really think about it, you just think about saving the ball and it doesn't really bother you."

Even if it is out of his mind, it doesn't mean that Rimando enjoys landing on the harder surface more than real grass. Departing RES is the next step for the club.

"No hard feelings to be leaving," added Rimando. "I think if we can continue our streak at home, there will be no hard feelings leaving at all. We are excited to get into that new stadium. Rice-Eccles has been home and has been great to RSL, but it is time to move on."

Kenny Cutler is one of the few remaining original team members from that first season, and he, too, has mixed feelings about the stadium on the hill.

"It's been our home, my home, for four years, so there are some definite emotions and feelings there," said Cutler. "To be moving into the new stadium is so exciting that we are thinking more about that than leaving Rice-Eccles. I feel like Rice-Eccles will always be a part of this team, since we started there. We still drive by it all the time and think about all the games.

"One of the best memories for me was in that first year we had a friendly against a Chilean club," continued Cutler. "It was one of my first times getting out on the field, and I scored a goal. Up to that point, I hadn't really had a chance with the first team, but that was when I think I showed I could play. I went on to start a lot of games that year and that was my moment."

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