SLC joins world game
It is the biggest international sporting event to come to Utah since the Winter Olympics, and it will be played on a temporary sod field at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The U.S. men's national soccer team will play host to Costa Rica in a World Cup Qualifying game June 4. The contest will be part of a doubleheader: Utah's expansion team, Real Salt Lake, will also play a Major League Soccer game against F.C. Dallas that day.
RSL officials declined to comment, but a variety of sources confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune that it is a done deal.
The Utah Soccer Association is pleased with the development, particularly because it is celebrating its 100th year.
"This is something we wanted to have as part of the centennial celebration," Bill Bosgraaf, association president, said. "It's very exciting."
The Utah Soccer Association and the Utah Sports Commission first began lobbying the U.S. Soccer Federation to bring the men's national team to Utah after the women's national team played Ireland at Rice-Eccles in 2003. But with the arrival of Real Salt Lake, Utah's bid for a match got stronger.
"The legwork was basically done by Real," Bosgraaf said. "It's their show, because they are putting it on."
Although the June 4 game has been scheduled, the stadium still needs some work. Because U.S. Soccer refuses to play qualifying matches on an artificial surface, the field at Rice-Eccles will have to be covered over with sod at least a month in advance. The sod probably will remain in place for a few more of Real's games before being removed for the Utah football season.
Costa Rica typically has been a tough opponent for the United States, and the rivalry has grown fierce. One interesting Utah connection is Steve Sampson: the Salt Lake City-born coach of the MLS's L.A. Galaxy once coached Costa Rica.
Until now, the only other teams to play soccer at Rice-Eccles stadium were the women's national team and the Utah Blitzz. The Blitzz ceased operations late last year after RSL came to town, but played three of their five seasons at Rice-Eccles.
RSL will be playing against Jason Kreis' former team in the other game. But RSL players Clint Mathis and Eddie Pope probably will only play with the national team against Costa Rica. Both have missed much of RSL's ongoing training sessions while practicing with the U.S. national team.
It will be the United States' fourth qualifying game this year. Sources say Salt Lake City was selected partly because of the success of the women's national team game two years ago. The women drew more fans to that game, about 23,000, than to any other match that year.
Also, U.S. Soccer has found that spreading its home qualifying matches around the country tends to bring more excitement and a larger gate. The only other qualifying match scheduled in the United States thus far is March 30 at Birmingham, Ala., against Guatemala.
The national team also will play at home on Aug. 17 against Trinidad and Tobago, on Sept. 3 against Mexico, and on Oct. 12 against Panama. Venues for those games have not been set.