For USMNT's MLS players, game at Rio Tinto represents rare opportunity to get crowd's support
Everybody knows about the stadium atmosphere at Seattle Sounders games. The large crowds and the enthusiastic support are well-renowned in MLS, and they were on full display Tuesday during the US national team's 2-0 win over Panama.
US players raved about Seattle's atmosphere this week. But there's another MLS stadium, about to host a World Cup qualifier of its own, that is also known as a fortress for the home team: Rio Tinto Stadium, Real Salt Lake's home ground.
With the US set to host Honduras next Tuesday at Rio Tinto, US national team players are once again looking forward to a loud and raucous home crowd.
"We expect another great atmosphere, very pro-American," said US national team and Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler told reporters at Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday after the USMNT arrived in Utah. "The crowd's going to be behind us. We're excited to play in front of the fans, and finish off this trip with nine points."
Added US center back partner and LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez: "I've been here plenty of times, and the crowd here at Rio Tinto is great. I think the crowd is going to pull together and cheer for us just hopefully as loud as RSL."
That last point is crucial for the USMNT players who play for MLS teams not named Real Salt Lake. The game represents a unique opportunity for those players who normally come in as RSL's opponents to feel the stadium's full support for once.
"I'm excited to play in front of the fans," said Besler. "I've played here three or four times, and it's a very, very tough place to win. It gets loud, the altitude becomes a bit of a factor. It'll be nice, from that perspective, to be cheered for."
Gonzalez also noted the effect of the altitude in Utah, and how that can play a part on an unprepared opponent.
"When [the Galaxy were] here a month ago, we ended up winning," he explained. "That game, I felt fine here with the altitude, and managed to feel fine the whole game. Hopefully it's that way this time. It's good that we come here early, it gives us a chance to get acclimated with the altitude."
Adding to the case in favor of the venue, Rio Tinto has hosted one US national team competitive match in the past, a 2-1 World Cup qualifying win over El Salvador in front of a capacity crowd in September 2009.
And until Houston's BBVA Compass Stadium recently surpassed it, "The RioT," as it's known among the RSL faithful, boasted the longest-ever home unbeaten streak among MLS stadiums. RSL went 34 games without a loss in all competitions, a run that stretched from 2009-11.
Michael Black provided additional reporting on this article.