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Keith Johnson, Deseret News
A banner hangs at the new Real Salt Lake stadium in Sandy announcing that Utah will host the 2009 Major League Soccer All-Star game.

Amid much political fanfare on a hot afternoon at Real Salt Lake's nearly-completed Sandy Stadium, Major League Soccer president Mark Abbott announced that RSL will be hosting the 2009 MLS All-Star Game next July.

"I just want to say this is just the first of what will be many spectacular events held in this stadium," said RSL owner Dave Checketts. "I never dreamed it could turn out as well as it has, and it's coming together in a very special way."

The All-Star game is traditionally held in late July, and the past four years has featured the MLS All-Stars against a well-known foreign team.

This year's All-Star game is in Toronto on July 24, with the MLS All-Stars facing West Ham of the English Premier League. In the previous three years MLS faced Celtic (Scotland), Chelsea (England) and Fulham (England).

Given the relationship between Real Salt Lake and Real Madrid, Checketts was asked if Real Madrid was his first choice for the MLS opponent in 2009, which he adamantly said "yes."

"But those guys are so hard, their schedule, and the things they do. That's going to be tough," Checketts said.

A lot of factors determine an MLS All-Star game's appeal and success, and the opponent is perhaps the most important.

"You either take your chances reserving a second-tier opponent and booking them in advance and say we're going to play Team X," Checketts said. "Or what I prefer to do is roll the dice a little bit.

Let's wait and maybe a big team springs loose."

The big European clubs are hesitant to commit to exhibition games in the United States too early, primarily because of the UEFA Champions League. If these teams don't finish high enough in their respective domestic leagues, which don't end until late April or early May, they'll likely have to play Champions League qualifying matches around the same time as the MLS All-Star game.

Checketts would prefer to gamble, which could mean a visit from Real Madrid in 2009 or one of the other big three or four clubs in the world.

Either way, Abbot said he's thrilled to award Salt Lake City the 14th-annual MLS All-Star game.

"We are so looking forward to being here next summer," said Abbott, who toured the stadium prior to Wednesday's press conference and declared the yet-to-be-named stadium the best in the league.

Abbott said awarding Real Salt Lake with the All-Star game was an easy choice based on the loyal fan base, the strong ownership group and the beautiful stadium, as well as the strong media and corporate support.

The match will be broadcast on ESPN and shown in over 100 countries Abbott said.

"We have a very simple goal in this state that I think is shared and understood by everyone, and that is to be the most competitive and dynamic economy in the country," said Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who was on hand for the announcement. "No easy task, we're there if not knocking right at that door."

Other notable people on hand for Wednesday's announcement included Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, and Utah Sports Commission president Jeff Robbins.

Ticket prices won't be determined until an opponent is announced, but Checketts said he was committed to giving first priority to season-ticket holders.


E-mail: jedward@desnews.com