'Soccer city' Salt Lake's passion for football not lost among 'Caps

Tosaint Ricketts - Arbor Day

"The energy of the crowd was awesome. It's a soccer city."

Andy Rose is describing the scene at Rio Tinto Stadium after sitting in the stands at a recent United States men's national team match, but he could've also been talking about MLS matches here as well. 

"It's a great atmosphere at Rio Tinto, always has been, every time I've come here to play."

This past Friday, the 'Caps and Real Salt Lake battled it out at the RioT, a game decided in the last stages. The host side emerged as victors in front of a near-capacity crowd that provided an electric atmosphere, including a Juneteenth tifo that supporters from both sides collaborated on. 

It's something that the 'Caps have missed - performing in front of fans, whether backing them or the opponent.

The 'Caps left the match disappointed not getting the three points, but outside the football lines, Whitecaps FC players and staff have felt the warm hospitality of the kind people of Salt Lake City, feeling very much welcomed in their temporary home.

"Every time I'm in a coffee shop, a conversation comes up. I seem to run into more and more Salt Lake fans. I was getting my phone fixed recently and the woman helping me was a huge MLS fan and knew all about the Whitecaps being there," says Rose. 

Many members of the 'Caps, who had a a couple of rare off-days during a period between MLS matches recently, have squeezed in some time to see the sights.

Jake Nerwinski, his wife Allie, and their new puppy went to beautiful Utah Lake State Park.

"We haven't had a ton of time off, but we had a few days to get away and we went down to Sundance, Park City, Silver Lake. It's absolutely stunning around here. In a lot of ways, there's some similarities to Vancouver in that you can get outside and enjoy the outdoors, lots of things to see," says Rose. "We've enjoyed going downtown, finding little coffee shops, and trying to learn to just live life as much as normal as possible. We've really enjoyed it." 

Maxime Crepeau and wife Cristina held their maternity shoot at the Little Sahara Sand Dunes. Earlier this month, they welcomed a baby girl, making one thing official.

A member of the Whitecaps FC family is naturally Utahn by birth.

The club's official social media channel has even adopted the city's other teams, voicing their support for the Utah Jazz during their run in the NBA Playoffs.

The staff and players also took part in the state's celebration of Arbor Day, planting a maple tree outside of Rio Tinto Stadium.

It's easy to see that despite the circumstances and challenges of having to be displaced to start the season, the 'Caps have been fortunate to land in a place that they will always have a special connection with from hereon out.

The team is back in action on Wednesday when they host LA Galaxy. For the first time, the 'Caps home match at Rio Tinto Stadium will be open to fans. Tickets are available at whitecapsfc.com/tickets and riotintostadium.com.

"If we can build a little bit of excitement and make it feel like a home game for us against the Galaxy, that would be incredible," says Rose. "We'd love to have them come out."