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Here’s how the first sporting event in America with fans since March will work

Rio Tinto Stadium will play host to the first sporting event in the United States to have fans in the stands when the Real Monarchs of the USL Championship take on San Diego Loyal SC

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Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy is pictured on Friday, April 24, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The state of Utah has very much been at the intersection of the sports world and the coronavirus pandemic, and another landmark event tying the two things together will take place in the Beehive State on Saturday afternoon.

Against the backdrop of rising coronavirus case counts and doctors pleading Friday with the public to wear masks, Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy will play host to the first sporting event in the United States to have fans in the stands when the Real Monarchs of the USL Championship take on San Diego Loyal SC.

“Our staff has worked diligently to develop a comprehensive plan that ensures that we have a safe, healthy and fun environment for our fans while experiencing a great match at Rio Tinto Stadium.” — Real Salt Lake chief business officer Andy Caroll

While the stadium won’t be near its capacity of just over 20,000 people, up to 5,300 will be allowed in.

How will it work? The club has outlined detailed protocols for gameday operations that include mandating that fans wear masks at all times except when eating at their seats, stadium seats and surfaces being disinfected and hand sanitizer dispensers being placed around the stadium.

Additionally, there will be timed entry into the stadium based on location, with the bottom half of each section being invited to enter the stadium 60 minutes prior to kickoff and the top half 30 minutes prior (fans will be permitted to enter the stadium any time after their group is invited to enter).

Concessions will be available, but designated with specific correlation to seat location, and lines will have a predetermined maximum length, with six feet of space in between people to maintain social distance. No cash will be accepted.

Inside the stadium, the first two seats on the aisles will not have fans. At the conclusion of the match, fans will leave their seats in a predetermined order, with the top row of each section departing first, and ushers will work their way down the section.

“Our staff has worked diligently to develop a comprehensive plan that ensures that we have a safe, healthy and fun environment for our fans while experiencing a great match at Rio Tinto Stadium,” Real Salt Lake chief business officer Andy Caroll said in a statement when the game was announced.  “The health and safety of our players, fans, staff and community has been the top priority throughout our process in seeking creative solutions to safely open our stadium to fans.  

With safe distances between seats and other safety measures in place, we are proud and excited to welcome our fans back as the Monarchs return to the field in defense of their USL Championship title.  We are very grateful to the thoughtful and steady leadership that we have in Salt Lake County and throughout Utah state government in providing this opportunity.”

Among Monarchs players, there is a general feeling of excitement about the opportunity to play for the first time since March 7, which was the team’s season opener. They slowly built up to full-team training over the course of several weeks and have been able to be all together for about two weeks now.

“It’s been a couple tough months, especially for all athletes, I can imagine, but we’re happy to finally be back doing what we love,” forward Chris Bermudez said.

Added midfielder Sam Brown: “I’d say I think everyone’s just excited just to kind of get back into it and to get playing games again.”

That said, there’s a degree of varying feelings about the prospect of fans being in attendance.

“It’s amazing, obviously because we’re the first ones, so there’s definitely going to be a lot of eyes on this match...we’re lucky enough to be playing in front of fans,” Bermudez said.

Brown had a bit more measured outlook.

“I think most of the guys trust the club as far as them following protocol,” he said. “I think there’s been steps that have been established to ensure that both the fans the fans, the players and the staff are safe and not nervous or anxious about the potential of something going wrong. We’ll have to wait and see what happens, but I think guys will be fine with it.”

Saturday’s contest is set to start at 2 p.m. MT and it will air on ESPN Deportes. It is the first of 15 games the Monarchs will play through Oct. 4. All but two will be played against either El Paso Locomotive FC, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and New Mexico United as the league aimed to limit travel. 

The Monarchs’ July 18 game against Colorado Springs will also be played at Rio Tinto Stadium, and the team’s remaining home games are scheduled for their usual home field, Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman. It has not yet been determined if fans will be admitted to games beyond Saturday.

While defense of their 2019 title certainly will come in different fashion, it’s on players’ minds as play resumes.

“I think we all know that we have a target on our backs from last year and from making the run we did,” Brown said. “We know the expectation and we know what teams think of us.”