Just as the U.S. men's national soccer team begins its final round of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa on Wednesday, Real Salt Lake has learned it will play host to one of its last qualifying games next fall.
The Americans will play El Salvador on Sept. 5 at Rio Tinto Stadium in what could be the game that clinches a World Cup berth -- or at least convinces the U.S. Soccer federation that RSL is worthy of ongoing consideration for such events in its gleaming new stadium.
"We want to be a regular stop for the U.S national team," RSL president Bill Manning said. "Both the men's team and the women's team. We will put on a great spectacle for them."
Tickets are not yet on sale, and probably will be hard to come by.
Manning said tickets will be offered to U.S. Soccer fan groups and RSL season-ticket holders first, and wondered whether there will be many left for the general public, considering the team sold 40,000 tickets when it played host to a qualifying game between the U.S. And Costa Rica four years ago at Rice-Eccles Stadium - which holds about twice as many fans as Rio Tinto Stadium.
What's more, tonight's qualifying game between the U.S. And Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, sold out in just 90 minutes.
"We're really excited about this," Manning said. "I think its going to be great for this town."
Combined with the 2009 Major League Soccer All-Star Game in July, the game gives RSL an impressive schedule of marquee events for its first full season in the new stadium. Soccer icons such as Landon Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra and Clint Dempsey figure to take part. Both the MLS All-Star Game and the qualifying game will be televised nationally on one of the ESPN channels.
In the final round of qualifying for the World Cup, the Americans will play each of five regional opponents at home and away through the next eight months. The top three teams in the group advance automatically to the World Cup, with the fourth-place team earning a chance to win entry through a playoff against a team from South America.
World Cup Qualifying Schedule
Date Opponent Location
Tonight Mexico Home
March 28 El Salvador Away
April 1 Trinidad & Tobago Home
June 3 Costa Rica Away
June 6 Honduras Home
Aug. 12 Mexico Away
Sep. 5 El Salvador Home
Sep. 9 Trinidad & Tobago Away
Oct. 10 Honduras Away
Oct. 14 Costa Rica Home