SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is set to be the site of the first pro team sporting event in the United States with fans in attendance since March.
On Thursday morning, the Real Salt Lake organization announced that Real Monarchs SLC, the winners of the 2019 USL Championship, will open the 2020 season at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on July 11 against San Diego Loyal SC, and 5,300 fans will be admitted to the 20,000-plus-seat venue.
San Diego, an expansion team, is coached by former United States national team star Landon Donovan. First priority for tickets to the match will be given to RSL and Utah Royals FC season ticket holders, and the rest will be made available to the general public.
“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 Carroll
“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 Carroll said in a statement. “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.”
The game is part of the opening weekend for the USL Championship, which will play 16 games to finish the 2020 season. The Monarchs had played just one game before the league was suspended on March 12. To limit travel, teams will be split into eight groups and will play only squads in their general geographic area. In the Monarchs’ group, for example, are the El Paso Locomotive FC, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and New Mexico United.
The Monarchs usually play at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, which seats 5,000, but playing at Rio Tinto Stadium both allows more fans than that while allowing for social distancing. In addition, the National Women’s Soccer League is playing its Challenge Cup there through July 18, after which it will move to Rio Tinto Stadium for the semifinals and final.
The NWSL Challenge Cup is the first professional sport to return to action in the United States at all since March, although no fans save a few involved with sponsorships have been admitted for games.