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SANDY — By the time most RSL fans return to Rio Tinto Stadium for a club match following the current international break, the stadium will be loud, raucous — and more full than its been in over a year.
Real Salt Lake announced to season ticket holders Thursday that its home stadium will be open to a near-full capacity in time for its next match June 18 against Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Per previous policy — and in accordance with current CDC and Salt Lake County health department guidelines for outdoor events — masks and face coverings will not be required for fans, but continue to be recommended.
"We are excited to welcome as many fans as we can safely have in our stadium to bring the electric atmosphere that has made Rio Tinto Stadium among the best in Major League Soccer," RSL interim president John Kimball said in a statement. "The health and well-being of our fans, players and staff remain the top priority. We are continuing to follow the safety protocols of Major League Soccer and the Utah Health Department and are working closely with both to ensure a safe and healthy environment for everyone who comes to our stadium to enjoy a match."
The club will continue to require masks and physical distancing in sections of the stadium for fans who prefer the option.
The stadium recently hosted the Utah High School Activities Association boys soccer state championships, with masks not required among fans and limited distancing protocols in effect other than limited ticketing. No confirmed positive cases have been reported from any of the championship matches, from Class 2A, 3A and 4A last week through 5A and 6A last Friday.
The club has been safely operating at half capacity since the start of the 2021 season, with a cap of close to 10,000 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium. Initially, masks and face coverings were required for fans and all attendees in the build, while food and drink were designated to "eating and drinking zones" around the stadium.
RSL lifted the mask requirement — but continued to "strongly recommend" them for fans — on May 11, as case counts lowered and vaccination rates increased in Salt Lake County and throughout the state. Additional accommodations have also been available for fans wishing to wear face coverings, and sit in an area of the stadium where they are required.
That move was in accordance with the latest CDC guidance, as well as recommendations from the Utah Department of Health and Salt Lake County government and health officials. Similar changes were made at Zions Bank Stadium for home games involving Real Monarchs and the Utah Warriors, and Smith's Ballpark recently reopened to full capacity — all 14,511 seats — with the Salt Lake Bees' current homestand against the Round Rock Express.
BYU recently announced that LaVell Edwards Stadium would be open to full capacity in the fall, and the University of Utah shortly followed by confirming expanded full capacity at Rice-Eccles Stadium, as well.
Kimball previously stated that the club was hopeful that full capacity would come soon — and even hinted that it could come by the time the stadium is scheduled to host Liga MX giants Club America and Santos Laguna in an international friendly July 4.
"The great news is Utah is doing a phenomenal job with all that — and there is still work to be done," Kimball told KSL.com in announcing the fixture. "We're trying to do as much as we can to encourage (vaccinations) as well.
"But because of that positive momentum, we really are bullish and excited about how things are gonna start to open up. We're hoping that by the middle of June, things will open up a little bit more, and I would expect by the Fourth of July that we can be at full capacity.
"We're going to do everything we can to be very safe and very cautious, because we don't want to do anything that would put any of our fans or anybody in jeopardy," Kimball added.
RSL players, like the opposition that travels to Rio Tinto Stadium, will also be under separate protocols under the jurisdiction of Major League Soccer. These protocols include mandatory face coverings and areas of the stadium used strictly for players and Tier 1 club and stadium personnel.
In addition to health and safety, such guidelines are to prevent the further cancellation or postponement of games. Real Monarchs' match last Saturday with Hartford Athletic, for example, was postponed indefinitely due to a positive case of COVID-19 among a member of the Monarchs organization.
The organizational member, who was not identified, is in good spirits and has been isolated and placed under the care of team medical professionals, the organization said in a statement.