Tom Smart, Deseret News
If you stop and think about it, the memories of Real Salt Lake's 2005 inaugural home game at Rice-Eccles Stadium come flooding back.
Your mind takes you back to what unfolded that balmy afternoon on April 16, 2005, when 25,287 soccer fans flocked to Rice-Eccles Stadium to see their MLS team for the first time and left happy when defender Brian Dunseth headed home a late winner to propel RSL to a 1-0 win over Colorado.
In some ways, that day seems like it could have happened yesterday. In so many other ways, however, that day seems like it happened a million years ago.
Indeed, so much has happened to Real Salt Lake for better and worse during the last three-and-a-half years. But to the credit of the club, once Thursday rolls around, it can proudly say it has survived everything that's come to pass since that first home-opener to stage a much grander opening act and a much more permanent one.
RSL will open its new state-of-the-art home, Rio Tinto Stadium, on Thursday against New York, and heading into that occasion, here's a few brief comparisons between the 2005 home-opener and this week's.
THE STARTING LINEUP
2005: D.J. Countess, Rusty Pierce, Brian Dunseth, Eddie Pope, Marlon Rojas, Chris Brown, Brian Kamler, Clint Mathis, Luke Kreamalmeyer, Dipsy Selolwane, Jason Kreis.
2008 (projected): Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave, Ian Joy, Kyle Beckerman, Robbie Russell, Andy Williams, Javier Morales, Clint Mathis, Yura Movsisyan.
Analysis: RSL coach Jason Kreis was a starter for the first home-opener, and to his credit, he's pieced together a solid group since taking over as head coach last year. From top to bottom, the '08 lineup is so much more complete than the '05 bunch that it's scary. Interestingly, there is potentially one player who might make both lists Clint Mathis if his former teammate, Kreis, gives him the nod on Thursday. Potential 2008 starter Andy Williams has been with RSL since Day 1 but didn't start in the '05 home-opener.
2005: At the time, people actually praised the Rice-Eccles Stadium staff for making the football lines look as unobtrusive as possible, but the artificial surface was nonetheless hard and unforgiving on Day 1 as it proved to be throughout RSL's stay there.
2008: The pitch at Rio Tinto Stadium features pristine grass that's been carefully groomed over the last two months.
Analysis: If you're a soccer player, you want to play on grass, and RSL will get a gorgeous grass pitch to play on inside Rio Tinto Stadium. The RSL players will go from having one of the worst if not the worst surfaces in MLS to having one of its best if not the best.
2005: Over 25,000 fans turned up at Rice-Eccles Stadium to witness opening day and provided a good atmosphere from start to finish.
2008: RSL officials expect a sell-out at Rio Tinto Stadium, which holds approximately 20,000 fans, and if those people are given something to cheer about, expect them to be extremely noisy.
Analysis: Opening day four years ago produced an excellent crowd, but expect an even better one in '08. For one thing, the acoustics of Rio Tinto Stadium will trap and reflect noise, essentially amplifying all sounds. If the fans get going, it's going to be loud. And remember all those empty seats in cavernous Rice-Eccles Stadium? Yeah, Rio Tinto will be packed to capacity on Thursday, and that will undoubtedly make for a better atmosphere.
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