This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
David Checketts' dream has become reality.
For two years, Checketts worked feverishly to schedule an exhibition game between his team, Real Salt Lake, and its namesake, world power Real Madrid.
It happened Friday.
Real Salt Lake will host Real Madrid, one of the most storied franchises in international soccer, in an exhibition on Saturday, Aug. 12.
"It's like bringing the Yankees and Tiger Woods in, all at the same time," said Checketts. ". . . This is a very, very big deal for Salt Lake and for Utah."
Personally, Checketts called finalizing the deal - first reported in The Salt Lake Tribune - a dream come true.
"I said when we started building this soccer club that we had to create a soccer culture first," said Checketts, who hopes the exhibition is the first step in a beneficial long-term relationship with Real Madrid.
Checketts envisions a shared Salt Lake-based soccer academy where the game's rising stars could attend school and develop their athletic skills.
Beyond that, Checketts said, "I'd like to think that - some day - Real Salt Lake will play Real Madrid in their stadium. We'll need soccer's version of Stockton-to-Malone first, but I don't think that's out of the question."
Emilio Butragueno, the vice president and general manager of Real Madrid, has become Checketts' friend since the early days of RSL.
"We are excited about this game," Butragueno said. "I think it is an opportunity for Real Madrid to extend our relationship with Real Salt Lake City and the football fans over there."
The exhibition will be played in Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake or Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, a decision expected by the end of next week.
"Lavell Edwards has grass and 20,000 more seats," RSL spokesman Trey Fitzgerald said. "But we reside in Salt Lake County and plan to do so for a long time. Our fans are accustomed to coming to Rice Eccles. . . . There are pluses and minuses on both sides."
Fitzgerald continued: "The bottom line is, this is a win-win situation that will bring an unprecedented amount of international attention to soccer in Utah."
According to Butragueno, Real Madrid's "best players" will participate in the exhibition, assuring American soccer fans a "worthwhile experience."
Ivan Bravo, the international development manager for Real Madrid, confirmed that his club's top stars - including David Beckham and Ronaldo - will play.
"Beckham is probably the most recognizable athlete in the world," said Checketts. "He's probably just edged past [Michael] Jordan."
Said Bravo: "That is the way we do tours. First and foremost, we are interested in reaching out to the fans and making an impact. . . . We are very committed to bringing the best team we have."
At the same time, Butragueno believes the trip will be a good experience for Real Madrid's players.
"This is a chance for them to see a new culture and a new people," he said, "and this is very important for Real Madrid. We try to be a global club and, in our opinion, the United States will be a very big player in football in the future."
Last year, Real Madrid traveled to Chicago and Los Angeles, and tickets in both cities were in extreme demand from both local and out-of-town fans.
Butragueno said it is too early to pinpoint Real Madrid's arrival date in Utah, but " . . . we will try to fulfill everyone's expectations" once the team reaches Salt Lake City.
Paul Burke, the immediate past president of Utah Youth Soccer, is certain Real Madrid won't disappoint anyone during its visit.
"It's very exciting," Burke said. "When RSL was founded, they promised to bring world-class soccer to Salt Lake and that's exactly what they're doing. . . .
"Real Madrid is one of the premier franchises in the world. They will be bringing icons of the game to Utah just one month after the World Cup. They could be even bigger icons by the time they get here."
Burke expects interest in the exhibition will spread throughout the Western United States.
"This will be a destination match," Burke said. "When you have David Beckham and . . . players like that coming in, it's worth traveling to see."
RSL players like Chris Klein are looking forward to the challenge of playing Real Madrid.
"It's an honor," he said. "They are the biggest club in the world."
Klein knows the match will have an impact on soccer in the United States, not just in Utah, and RSL players will be part of it.
"More than what it does for us as players is what it does for the sport of soccer in this country," he explained. "It puts the best soccer in the world on display for the people of the United States to see. . . . For them to come here and play, really, it's a showcase for the best in the world."
Last year, a World Cup qualifying match was played at Rice Eccles, which, according to Fitzgerald, had a $13 million economic impact on Salt Lake County.
"This match will surpass that," he said.
WHAT IS REAL MADRID?
Founded in 1902, Real Madrid ("real" is Spanish for royal) is one of soccer's most glamorous franchises. It has won nine European championships and 29 La Liga titles in Spain. Think Dallas Cowboys or L.A. Lakers. It also was the inspiration for the name of Utah's pro soccer franchise, Real Salt Lake.
WHO IS DAVID BECKHAM?
The captain of the England's national team, Beckham started his career in 1989 with Manchester United. He is part soccer star, part paparazzi prize, part pop icon and part heartthrob. There may never have been another athlete quite like him - in terms of talent-to-popularity ratio. He's a fine soccer player to be sure and he enjoys the iconic status of Pele or Jordan, but without the label "best ever" often associated with those names.
WHO IS RONALDO?
Nicknamed "The Phenomenon," Ronaldo is considered by many the best striker in history because of his speed, dribbling ability and scoring instincts. He played on two World Cup championship teams with Brazil (1994 and 2002) and is often compared to Pele.
Date: Aug. 12
Site: Rice Eccles Stadium or LaVell Edwards Stadium