Thursday, July 30, 2009

Real Salt Lake – FC Dallas (24-07-2009)

Directly after the Timbers game I had jumped into my car to drive at least another 4 hours to keep me en route for game 2 of this road trip, 778.7 miles (1253 km) away in Sandy, Utah. I had agreed with a colleague, who lives in Salt Lake City, that I would call him from the road if I was certain that I would make it. So, when I crossed the Idaho-Utah border around 17.00, three hours before kick-off, I called him and we agreed to meet in front of the stadium.

We bought tickets for $25 each, which were only the second least expensive (!), and gave us a seat in one of the (uncovered) corners in the beautiful new stadium. Fortunately, as we would soon find out, the Rio Tinto Stadium doesn’t have any real bad seats, so our view was excellent.

The Rio Tinto Stadium is a brand new soccer-specific stadium, opened in October 2008, in Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. It holds 20,008 people and is home (exclusively) to MLS team Real Salt Lake. For this Friday evening game against FC Dallas 18,882 people had shown up, deterred neither by the high ticket prices nor by the expected rain. I was amazed by the high number of people sporting Real Salt Lake gear and the high number of Latinos among the (hardcore) fans.

Under the tunes of Guns & Roses (in a Mormon stronghold!) the teams entered the pitch and, after the obligatory national anthem (proudly and loudly sung by those around us, hand on their heart), the game started. It needed some heating up, with a hard shot in the side net in the 9th minute, but soon after the game was on! In the 12th minute a fairly lame covered shot of Dallas caught the Real goalie on his wrong foot: 0-1. All four away fans went crazy. ;-)

The crowd was really stunned ten minutes later, when FC Dallas laid down a beautiful rugby-like attack over five players that was finished by Dutchman Dave van den Bergh: 0-2. As far as my colleague and I were concerned, it was game over. The rest of the first half Dallas remained the better team, even if they failed to take an even bigger lead. The 0-2 was a highly deserved half time score and was met with fairly loud booing of the home crowd.

At half time I sampled some of the excellent food offers at the Rio Tinto Stadium, including a highly acceptable pulled chicken sandwich ($8). We took our places for the second half, which started exactly as the first had ended: with FC Dallas dominating but not finishing its chances. However, Real was getting back into the game and, after three corner kicks in a row without a goal, scored somewhat unexpected in the 54th minute: 1-2. Five minutes later the Real striker was clearly held in the box and the penalty was converted: 2-2.

Within five minutes a game that seemed over after 20 minutes, was totally open again. But while the home fans could taste victory, it would be the visitors who would get the next chance. In the 69th minute, after a free kick hit the hand of a defender, Dallas also got a penalty… but missed!

Just minutes later there was a confusing situation were it first seemed that a Real player was sent off, but it then turned out to be their coach. This seemed to inspire the players even more in their thirst for victory. After increasing pressure they would also finally get what they increasingly deserved, even if it was through an own goal: 3-2.

A couple of minutes later, in extra time, Real finished a perfect counter with a hard shot low in the corner: 4-2! What a comeback! This led one of the increasingly frustrated Dallas players to a hard foul (and red card), which started a short brawl. An unfortunate end to an amazing football game.

While my colleague stayed for the post-match fireworks, I made my way back to my car, as I had a few hours more to drive, so that I stayed on course for a three games in three days schedule. Whatever next days game would bring, I already knew that tonight’s experience would be extremely hard to beat. Real Salt Lake has a beautiful stadium and a great sized fan base which remains enthusiastic even without alcohol!

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