RSL welcome Real Madrid to Utah

Surrounded by VIPs and members of the media Wednesday, Real Salt Lake announced the details of their Aug. 12 friendly against Real Madrid, to be played at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

RSL investor-operator Dave Checketts spoke of the trip he and his brother made to Madrid two years ago, to begin what they hoped would become a relationship between the two teams, a relationship that has begun to bear fruit.

"We will have a showdown between Real Salt Lake and Real Madrid," said Checketts. "This will be a most memorable event for the people of the state of Utah."

The game will take place at Rice-Eccles Stadium, where the artificial turf will be covered with real grass in the same way that was done for the very successful World Cup qualifier between the USA and CONCACAF rival Costa Rica last year.

The team had discussed playing the match at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo -- a move that would have allowed them a field that already had grass installed, as well as the ability to sell approximately 20,000 more seats than at Rice-Eccles. Ultimately, relationships with Rice-Eccles won out and the team announced it would stay home for the game.

Several of the front office staff from Real Madrid were in attendance at the press conference, including club vice president Emilio Butragueño, who addressed the crowd in both English and Spanish. He was very optimistic about the success of the match, as well as the future relationship with Real Salt Lake.

"We hadn't realized the friendliness of the people (of Utah)." said Butragueño. "We are very excited. Of course we're going to come with all our stars. We want to win."

Stars are exactly what soccer fans are excited to see, and not just the fans in the seats.

"This is a once in a lifetime experience," said Real Salt Lake striker and captain Jason Kreis. "Enjoy the game, soak it up, and enjoy it for a lifetime."

While a once in a lifetime experience for some, RSL coach John Ellinger is counting on the experience of a few of his players to help bring up the performance level against Madrid. Kreis, Jeff Cunningham, and Douglas Sequeira all squared off against Real Madrid as members of the MLS All-Stars last year in Spain. Kreis had a lighthearted attitude about the match.

"This is the best of the best," said Kreis. "I will make one guarantee on the game: that Real will win."

While the thought of Real Salt Lake beating Real Madrid is not out of the team's mind, they are looking towards the match as more of a learning experience.

"It's a great honor for all of us," said Ellinger. "After 90 minutes of playing with them, hopefully you take something back."

As part of the announcement, there was a traditional jersey exchange, as happens following matches betweeen players all over the world. Real Salt Lake presented RSL jerseys with the names of their visiting dignitaries from Madrid, while Madrid presented RSL with Real Madrid shirts that had "Salt Lake City" in place of a name and the No. 1.

As he presented the jersey, Butragueño said: "Number one, because very soon this team will be number one in this country."

Neil Wyler is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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