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Beckham, teammates prove they are fan-friendly

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David Beckham continues to win over fans in Salt Lake City, and count Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts as one of them.

"There's a real lesson here for players in every sport with the way these players handle themselves," said Checketts.

Following Friday morning's training session, Real Madrid's players were committed to a Real Salt Lake-sponsored autograph session in which all 24 players signed autographs for 200 select fans. While waiting for the rest of their teammates to emerge from the locker room, players like Beckham, Emerson, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Fabio Cannavaro and Robinho all voluntarily walked over and signed hundreds more autographs for the screaming fans dangling jerseys, soccer balls and other memorabilia over the Rice-Eccles Stadium railings.

"We said to Beckham, 'Go get on the bus and get out of here,' and he said, 'However long I can stay, let's sign autographs,' " said Checketts. "I've been around a lot of NBA and NHL players, and I've never seen this kind of attitude. These guys are on the world stage. It's a real lesson for athletes in other sports."

MUM'S THE WORD: Now that it's game day, many soccer fans are wondering which Real Madrid players are actually going to play. Unfortunately, aside for Tuesday press conference at Grand America Hotel, Real Madrid coach Fabio Capello hasn't spoken to the local media, so it's impossible to know his line-up against Real Salt Lake.

A staff member close to the team said he wouldn't be surprised if Capello uses much the same line-up as he did for Wednesday's game against D.C. United. In that match, Capello used the following lineup: Casillas (Diego Lopez, 46), Salgado, Woodgate (Fabio Cannavaro, 46), Sergio Ramos (Helguera, 80), Roberto Carlos (Raul Bravo, 65), Emerson (Pablo Garcia, 46), David Beckham (Cicinho, 46), Raul (Baptista, 65), Cassano (Robinho, 46) and Ruud Van Nistelrooy (Balboa, 75).

SELLOUT INEVITABLE: As of Friday afternoon, Real Salt Lake senior director of sales Chris Keeney said that 44,000 seats to tonight's match had been sold, and that he fully expected to sell the remaining tickets before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

For ticket information fans call call 581-UTIX or visit the Rice-Eccles Stadium ticket office. Stadium capacity is just over 45,000.

SUITABLE FIELD: After some concerns earlier this week from Real Madrid players and coaches about the quality of the temporary grass playing surface at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the sod appears to be strengthening and should be fine for kickoff.

During both Real Madrid training sessions on Tuesday, sections of the newly-laid sod came up quite easily whenever the players planted their cleats deep into the grass. Beckham even ripped up a chunk of sod nearly 18 inches long while attempting to cross the ball to a teammate.

Part of the problem appeared to be that the grass was too saturated near the sidelines. Primarily, however, the sod just needed a few more days to start growing together and strengthening upon itself.

HYPE APLENTY: Over 5,000 fans showed up to Rice-Eccles Stadium Friday morning to watch Real Madrid's training session.

Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts was among those in attendance, and he believes the attendance would've been significantly higher if the team had decided to open up admission free of charge prior to Thursday afternoon.

E-mail: jedward@desnews.com