You don’t get the chance to use the following sentence very often, so relish the opportunity: “The champions will begin defense of their crown with their home opener in Utah.” That’s what will happen when Real Salt Lake—2009 MLS Cup Champions—plays its first home game of the 2010 season.
The only other time we’ve been able to say that about a professional, non-minor league Utah team was 39 years ago, when the Utah Stars had made Salt Lake City title town for the long-departed ABA. If you want to count major college sports, you have to go all the way back 25 years to the fall of 1985 when BYU football was coming off an undefeated 1984 season and national championship win.
Saturday’s game is important because it is the only one of the first five RSL games of the season that is a home contest. For all of the glory of their Cinderella run through the MLS playoffs last season, RSL had a losing record of 11-12-7 during the regular season. That record was the result of being tough at home (9-1-5) while struggling to find wins on the road (2-11-2), which basically makes Real a shorter version of the Jazz and with longer hair.
Will the fact that “we are the champions, my friends” make SLC a soccer town beyond those already converted to the sport? Will those who have previously eschewed the offside rule and found flopping unforgivable suddenly find themselves in a more European state of mind? Show up Saturday night and find out.