Getting the warm welcome from the crowd, to know my family is in the stands. It felt great, felt like I was home, something I'm going to remember for a long time. —Nick Rimando
SANDY — The main attraction at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday was certainly the U.S. national team, but there was plenty for Real Salt Lake fans to cheer about as well during CONCACAF Gold Cup action.
In addition to three RSL players — Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Tony Beltran — featuring for the United States in its 4-1 win over Cuba, Alvaro Saborio started and played 89 minutes in Costa Rica’s narrow 1-0 win over Belize in the second game of the doubleheader.
Saborio had several near misses before being replaced by Yendrick Ruiz.
More than 17,000 fans showed up for the doubleheader Saturday, with roughly 4,000 sticking around for the second match — no doubt to cheer on Saborio.
Saborio wore the captain’s armband for Costa Rica, which improved to 2-0 with the victory.
Earlier this week, Saborio tweeted out, “This Saturday I’ll play at my second home Rio Tinto Stadium, is good to be back!!!”
His RSL teammates echoed that sentiment after the United States’ victory.
“It feels great. A lot of emotions going through my head when I was coming out. Getting the warm welcome from the crowd, to know my family is in the stands. It felt great, felt like I was home, something I’m going to remember for a long time,” said Rimando.
Beltran said playing in front of his home fans was indeed a unique opportunity.
“Fantastic atmosphere. I’m spoiled I get to see that atmosphere week in and week out with RSL. It was same with the national team,” said Beltran.
WONDO(W)LOWSKI STRIKES AGAIN: Five days after scoring three goals in a Gold Cup game with the name misspelled on his U.S. jersey, Chris Wondolowski scored twice Saturday with the proper spelling, proving it wasn’t the jersey after all.
Well, sort of, there was an extra “w” stitched on the inside for good luck.
Regardless of the letters, Wondolowski continued his torrid pace for the United States as he’s scored five goals in just 79 minutes of Gold Cup matches against Cuba and Belize.
Tougher tests are surely to come, but he’s making the most of his opportunities.
“I think I’m very confident in my play. Getting the goals is so huge, but I’m feeling even more confident in my passing and my touch, which is really helping me raise my level,” said Wondolowski. “It’s such a huge honor anytime you put on that jersey. Anytime I see that jersey I get chills. I love being a part of it and representing my country.”
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said the goals are great, but it’s Wondolowski’s work off the ball that’s making a difference as well.
“He’s hungry, and he’s working a lot. It’s not only he has the instinct where the ball will be in the box, it’s also the runs he makes to open things up, and opens up some channels for the other guys. It’s great,” said Klinsmann.
MLS PROGRESSING: Four of the 11 players in the United States staring lineup Saturday play their club soccer in MLS, with seven more on the bench hoping to contribute throughout the tournament.
Klinsmann believes the relationship between the United States and MLS is a very good one.
“We’ve built a very strong and good relationship with MLS and the coaches within the league, and we try to help each other whenever we can,” said Klinsmann. “A strong MLS helps the national team program. The national team program on the other side helps MLS. We give these guys opportunities; we bring them through; we help them when things go wrong. It’s not only you bring them in once. You bring them in on numerous occasions and let them grow.”
Klinsmann used Philadelphia’s Jack McInerney, who’s on the 23-man Gold Cup roster, as an example.
“He’s obviously not there yet, but he knows it. There’s a learning curve. You talk to the kid and you explain things to him. Who benefits from that work? Hopefully also Philadelphia. Hopefully also MLS. The same with a lot of players,” said Klinsmann.