Salt Lake's new stadium to host All-Stars in '09

July 9, 2008

SANDY, Utah -- Real Salt Lake is still trying to set an opening date for its new stadium before the end of the season. Next year is already booking up.

Real will host Major League Soccer's 2009 All-Star game, team and league officials said Wednesday at the stadium where the game will be played next summer. MLS doesn't know yet who the American league's all-stars will be playing and the actual date is also undetermined. But there is a location.

"We'd been pestering the MLS about the All-Star game," Real owner Dave Checketts said with a subtle grin after the announcement.

Real celebrated Wednesday by unfurling of a giant red banner with the team's logo and "Home of the 2009 Major League Soccer All-Star Game." The banner hung from the northwest corner of the stadium, which is still a busy work site and will be for another couple of months.

Coach Jason Kreis, the first player chosen for RSL's 2005 expansion team, said he never would have predicted Utah would host the All-Star game.

"It's come a long way," Kreis said. "I know for certain that this is going to be a spectacularly attended event next year. People all over the state have come out and shown us that they like to see world class soccer."

The opponent for the All-Star game will depend on who is available. Instead of pairing off the Eastern and Western conferences, MLS tries to bring in international clubs and make it more competitive. West Ham of England's Premier League will play the MLS all-stars in Toronto on July 24.

Checketts said his first choice would be Real Madrid, but acknowledges that isn't likely. The Spanish club played a friendly game in Utah two years ago and was scheduled to play here again in August, but canceled the game in favor of a trip to play in Colombia.

Checketts said it's hard to schedule a European club, not to mention one of Madrid's stature, but he would love to bring the original Real back to Utah to play in the new stadium, which is vastly different from Salt Lake's current home at Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah, a stadium built for football.

Real Salt Lake Stadium, located about 15 miles south of Salt Lake City, already has a grass field.

The sod was put down last month and is now under a steady stream from the sprinklers as it sets. The grass will likely be ready before the rest of the stadium is completed. Real hopes to open the 20,000-seat venue, which nearly wasn't built because of repeated funding snags, on Oct. 9 against New York in the second-to-last game of the regular season.

Checketts said he was hoping to get the 2010 All-Star game, but MLS offered next summer instead.

Checketts said MLS commissioner Don Garber visited Utah recently and was impressed with the stadium, tucked in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains. Checketts made another pitch for the All-Star game and the league agreed to it.

Next summer will be Real's fifth season in the league. The team has struggled even more than many expansion clubs, but is in position to have its best season yet. Real (5-6-5) needs just one win to match last season's total and is within range of the franchise record of 10 wins, set two years ago.

MLS president Mark Abbott, who attended the announcement, said the league likes to showcase new stadiums and called Real's the best in the league -- even with the pallets of construction materials that line the concourse overlooking the field.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press