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Mike Terry, Deseret News
A giant, U.S.-shaped American flag was part of ceremonies before Real Salt Lake's first game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy Thursday. RSL played the New York Red Bulls.

SANDY — With a shout heard 'round the state, Rio Tinto Stadium officially opened Thursday to the wild cheers of thousands of Real Salt Lake fans.

From CEOs and executives to electricians and plumbers, the casual to die-hard fans and everyone in between, Real Salt Lake and partners put on a dazzling opening night.

"This stadium surpassed the expectations of almost everyone involved," said Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan. "It is an asset to the community and the state to be able to put something out there like this for the whole country to see. I see nothing but positives coming out of this.

"The soccer crowd is just different than a football crowd, and it makes this a lot of fun. Win or lose, the fans coming here are going to have fun."

The 20,008 people who packed the stands for the team's stadium-opening first game against the New York Red Bulls joined in a celebration. There were clowns, musicians and even some jugglers for the pregame hoopla. Drummers, flag wavers and even a set of bagpipes added to the party-like atmosphere.

Layton's Zach Petersen and Matthew Durham showed their team spirit by painting their faces bright red.

"We just wanted to show how much we love Real Salt Lake," said Petersen, who admitted this was his first time painting his face for a game. "I have been to about 20 games before this, and I really wanted to see what it is going to be like at the new stadium."

There were cheers, beers — which are also a new addition to the concessions after moving from Rice-Eccles Stadium on the University of Utah campus — and even a few tears from the youngsters, who were either cold, impatient or up too late past their bedtime considering the 8 p.m. start time to accommodate ESPN2's television coverage.

The pregame included a tribute to those serving in the military, a giant American flag shaped like the United States and a flyover of helicopters by the National Guard.

With the stadium designed specifically for soccer, there is not a bad seat in the house.

"I think we are probably in some of the worst seats in the stadium," said Craig Jeppson of Orem, who was seated in the very top row of the upper stands. "But they are still great. We can see the field just like we are on top of it."

Jeppson and his friend Joylynn Sorensen said they were attending their first RSL game ever, but they liked what they saw enough that they felt they would come back.

"The atmosphere is great," added Jeppson. "From the moment you first walk in, you can feel how excited everyone is."

From the first-time fans to the loyal season-ticket holders, everyone had nothing but praise for the new digs.

"We had front-row seats since the first season at Rice-Eccles and just kept our tickets when we moved here," said Holladay's Doug Burnett from his new front-row seats right near midfield. "This is tremendous. We are right on top of the action. We love to watch good soccer. My kids play, so it is fun to bring them out, make it a family affair and watch the sport."

The fact the stadium was ready after only 17 months was astounding. When team owner Dave Checketts first had his vision for a soccer-specific stadium in Utah, even he didn't think it could turn out as well as it did.

"Everyone involved in this deserves a big pat on the back," he said. "It has all come together beyond all our expectations. You never really know exactly how things are going to come out in the end, but I have to admit that I couldn't be any happier with the results.

"I think the architect is a genius," he added. "The way all the designs turned out are terrific. This is a stadium that everyone can be proud of. From the concessions, I think the concessions are great, you couldn't get any better food at any facility in the country, to the whole atmosphere, this has turned out to be a terrific night."

Rio Tinto Stadium is the seventh soccer-specific stadium to be opened in Major League Soccer. According to league president Mark Abbot, it is the new model that all soccer stadiums should follow.

"From the moment I walked in the doors, everything has been first class," he said. "The fans, the atmosphere, the field, it all has been just what we envision for all of our teams to have at some point. This is a great stadium and is a big asset to have in Major League Soccer."

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