Hemsley: Salt Lake City's soccer crowd is still among the best in the nation
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Most of what we saw on social media about the Real Salt Lake crowd following Tuesday's World Cup qualifier between the U.S. and Honduras was that it is quiet, subdued and subpar, or that at least it was on Tuesday.
That's not a fair assessment. The locals — not to mention those who flew in from all over the nation to watch Tuesday's game — were the victims of unrealistically high expectations.
Google 'USMNT crowd,' and all you'll see is reports of national teamers raving about Seattle's amazing crowd — and make no mistake, it is amazing. There is no group of supporters in North America as consistently loud, raucous and passionate about the beautiful game and its home side as the fans in the Emerald City.
Seattle Sounders FC is not the only Major League Soccer team to play its regular season matches in an NFL stadium, but it is the only one that fills it. They are the outlier. On average, more than 42,000 people attend Sounders FC matches, filling CenturyLink Field to 107 percent of capacity.
The next best figures go to Montreal and two-time MLS defending champion L.A. Galaxy, both nearly 20,000 fans per game behind.
How can any other city realistically be expected to match Seattle? None can. Rather, give Salt Lake City credit for what it achieved.
Tickets sold out for the World Cup qualifier in less than two days. Demand was so high that Rio Tinto Stadium issued standing-room-only tickets, all of which quickly evaporated. Not only was it the largest Utah crowd to ever attend a World Cup qualifying match, but it was among the largest crowds ever assembled in Utah to watch soccer.
Fans attentively watched the match and reacted to what they saw, which wasn't much. Honduras wasn't playing for the win. It stacked 10 men behind the ball and preyed on American mistakes unsuccessfully, which meant America's best option was usually to play over the top. The success rate wasn't great, play was sloppy and the crowd reflected it.
As American quality improved through the 70th minute, so did the crowd. Once the goal was scored and the crowd had a real reason to celebrate, the true nature of RSL fans shone through. They were excellent through the final whistle.
Despite the criticism, Utah increased its profile with this match and generated positive energy. Any event that attracts national or international attention, whether it be soccer, the Olympics, football or basketball, is a total winner for the Beehive State.
As Forbes' Patrick Rishe wrote, "I can honestly say that Salt Lake City was not really on my radar as a getaway destination for my own personal recreational travel. I can honestly now say that I would love to get back there in the future for hiking, golf, and the numerous outdoor activities the region has to offer."
Seattle Sounders FC visits Rio Tinto this Saturday, a traditionally very high-profile match in the MLS West. As they have been all year, the RSL faithful will continue to be excellent — not Seattle excellent, Salt Lake City excellent.
They are, indeed, two very different things.
Editor's note: This article has been changed from its original version to reflect more accurate information. The original version implied that Tuesday's attendance was the second-largest in Rio Tinto Stadium history, which was incorrect.
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