Real Salt Lake kicks off its participation in the 101st Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament on the road, taking on the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks in a fourth-round match at Atlanta Silverbacks Park at 6:00 p.m. MT on Saturday. The match will be streamed live on RealSaltLake.com and broadcast live on ESPN 700.
Here are a few storylines to watch ahead of Saturday’s clash:
RSL out for revenge after coming up short in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup Final
Real Salt Lake will be looking to make amends after letting the 2013 U.S. Open Cup Championship slip away last year, falling 1-0 to D.C. United in the Championship match at Rio Tinto Stadium on Oct. 1, 2013. Reaching last year’s Final was the furthest the Claret-and-Cobalt had gone in the tournament, besting previous runs to the Quarterfinals in 2006 and 2011. Real Salt Lake posts an even record in Open Cup play, recording nine wins and nine losses all-time. The Claret-and-Cobalt has fared better against lower division teams, unsurprisingly, posting a 5-2-0 record. Both of RSL’s losses came at the hands of NASL side Minnesota United FC.
Real Salt Lake boasts multiple connections to NASL
Real Salt Lake has three players on its current squad that have previously played in NASL, specifically the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Claret-and-Cobalt goalkeeper Jeff Attinella played for the Tampa Bay Rowdies from 2011-2012, helping lead the Rowdies to the NASL title in 2012 while finishing second in NASL MVP voting and earning a spot on the league Best XI. RSL midfielder Luke Mulholland played for the Rowdies from 2012-2013, helping win the NASL title in 2012 with Attinella and became the first player to be named to the NASL Best XI in back-to-back seasons. RSL defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe spent a year with the Rowdies in 2011 in a year-long loan with the Chicago Fire.
RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar also has a connection to the Atlanta Silverbacks, spending a year with the NASL side in 2002 before returning to MLS’s FC Dallas the following year.
Can RSL forward Devon Sandoval carry over last year’s successful Open Cup form into 2014?
Real Salt Lake forward Devon Sandoval shined in the 2013 U.S. Open Cup in what was his first year with RSL. The New Mexico native ended the tournament as the Claret-and-Cobalt’s leading goalscorer, recording three goals in two appearances. The target forward scored in RSL’s 3-2 win over the Atlanta Silverbacks and bagged a brace in the club’s 5-2 win over Charleston Battery. RSL forwards Alvaro Saborio and Joao Plata finished second in scoring with two goals apiece.
RSL to be the first MLS team to play at Atlanta Silverbacks Park
Real Salt Lake will be the first Major League Soccer team to play at Atlanta Silverbacks Park on Saturday. The unfamiliarity with the turf field, and the team itself, will be an added element to the match along with mounting injuries and World Cup absences.
The Silverbacks, coached by former U.S. international Eric Wynalda, currently sit in eighth-place in the NASL standings with a 3-5-1 record this season. Silverbacks forward Jaime Chavez, leads the team and league in goals scored with five, and is coming off a two-goal performance against NASL side Indy Eleven. The Silverbacks have struggled defensively this year, conceding a total of 20 goals in nine games played. In 2013, the Silverbacks reached the NASL Championship match but fell 1-0 to the New York Cosmos.
Real Salt Lake kicks off participation on the 101st Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament on Saturday, taking on NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks at 6:00 p.m. MT at Atlanta Silverbacks Park. Saturday’s match will be streamed live on RealSaltLake.com and broadcast live on ESPN 700.
Saturday’s match will be the second year in a row that RSL has faced Atlanta in its opening match of the tournament. The Claret-and-Cobalt hosted Atlanta on May 28, 2013 at Rio Tinto Stadium, which resulted in a thrilling 3-2 win in extra time for the Utah side.
Check out the highlights from that wild and rainy match that jumpstarted RSL’s run to the 2013 Open Cup Final.
RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar took a quick break from the training field and film room on Tuesday night, rolling up to the Lionel Richie and Cee-Lo Green concert in a pretty rad tank top.
— Rox Hasegawa (@Roxoramma) June 11, 2014
RSL assistant coaches Daryl Shore and Andy Williams were also at the concert. Andy thinks he and Cee-Lo look a bit alike. See any resemblance?
— Andy Williams (@bommadog) June 11, 2014
Cassar, Shore and Williams and the rest of the RSL coaching staff will run training sessions in Salt Lake on Wednesday and Thursday before departing for Atlanta ahead of Saturday’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match at the Silverbacks.
Real Salt Lake will learn its fourth round U.S. Open Cup opponent tonight, as the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks and the NPSL’s Chattanooga FC will meet in the tournament’s third round, with the winner advancing to take on RSL next month.
If second-division Atlanta scores a win at Chattanooga, RSL will travel to face the Silverbacks in Georgia on June 14. If fourth-tier Chattanooga notches the upset, RSL will play at CFC on June 18. The winner of RSL’s fourth round game will play in the fifth round on June 24. On Friday, RSL will learn a scenario regarding a potential site and opponent for the fifth round.
Tonight’s match between Atlanta and Chattanooga will be streamed live online at 5:30 p.m. MT. Click here to watch.
Real Salt Lake faces D.C. United in what is perhaps the most anticipated match of the last two years, and it's one Jason Kreis and his team will be hoping to put to bed easily. But that's rarely as simple as it seems, despite their opposition's wholly dismal form in MLS.
Form: What is it good for?
If you've guessed that the answer is something close to "absolutely nothing," then you're right on track. It's not really that form means nothing, but that when we're talking about the biggest matches, form won't dictate anything on a grand scale. Quality players step up for games of this nature. There's nothing controversial about that. We've had trouble in the past in these circumstances, but again: Form, even over the longer term, doesn't mean a thing.
Who plays? One major choice remains
If Saturday's defeat of Vancouver Whitecaps (which, I might add, was quite nice) is any indication, and it surely is, then we'll see as strong a lineup as we've seen all season. The only player who would seem a real doubt, Alvaro Saborio, is back, having trained for at least a week now.
But there remains one question: Who plays in the midfield alongside the Beckerman, Grabavoy and Morales trio? Luis Gil has just come off a superb 90-minute performance on the weekend; Sebastian Velasquez the same. Both played heavily in the Reserve League game during the week. This leaves Khari Stephenson as the obvious choice, but as we've seen so often, the obvious choice is so often the one not taken. Luis Gil is hardly out of the running.
Stephenson adds some great work, a calm head, and a great long shot. It perhaps should be noted that he's won an Open Cup before — a champion with Kansas City in 2004.
Gil adds more attacking movement and combination, which is essential to the way we play. He also would come into the match with some renewed confidence, having been the midfield boss throughout Saturday.
The pass-and-move fabric of our side is an important factor: Stephenson is decidedly less mobile (owing in part to his stature and in part to his style of play) than Gil. He isn't a player that fits neatly into our system the way Gil does at current — a testament to Gil's development at Real Salt Lake, surely.
But that, on its own, isn't the determining factor: Stephenson adds new variables to the equation, and it's tempting to deploy that business buzzword, disruption, to the element he would bring. And maybe we should: By allowing us another type of option, Stephenson disrupts the tendency we have to end up in a desperate spot on the flank, flinging ball after ball into the box. He'll stick more centrally, he'll stay calm, and he'll try to find a sane — if not spectacular — pass.
Setting out on the front foot
If there's one thing that's universally agreed upon about this D.C. United side, it's that allowing them to play their game yields dividends for the opposition. The "inevitable mistake," as a group of United podcasters and bloggers described it during a conversation I had with them tonight, will come, and it'll push their chances to something approaching zero.
We won't give them the opportunity to make that mistake. Not easily, at least. At home, with Jason Kreis as our manager, we aim to control nearly everything that comes our way. We lead the league in passes per possession. We make the game ours and not the opponents. Even with the weakness of our opponent, there's little chance we break from that. This is who we are, and we'll continue our unabashed approach.
That's of course to our benefit. There's little point in completely changing the way we play. Responding to our opponents is one thing; playing to exploit one specific weakness is another. We'll play to exploit multiple weaknesses in the midfield and defense, and if it works out, we'll have a very strong chance of coming out victorious on the other side.
We didn't get here by not being us. It's been a difficult road, and the final won't be easy. But we're not going to abandon that road now — not right at the end.
MLSsoccer.com was out in full force at Real Salt Lake practice at Rio Tinto Stadium on Monday ahead of Tuesday's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final against D.C. United, speaking with Claret-and-Cobalt Head Coach Jason Kreis, defender Nat Borchers and midfielder Javier Morales about the Cup Final.
They packaged their conversations into a slick video - give it a watch above.
The MLS regular season is winding down and RSL have got yet another compelling stretch of three games in eight days ahead of them – two important league games a week apart with Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup Final wedged in the middle. We’ve seen plenty of 3-in-8’s roll around this season, but it’s doubtful that any of them are as important as this one. If RSL plays out of their minds and wins all three games, they will find themselves with a major trophy in hand, a CONCACAF Champions League berth (and all the ancillary benefits that come with it), and a guaranteed spot in the playoffs. But if they crash and burn, they could find themselves without a trophy and on the outside of the playoff race. So if you’re Jason Kreis, the question is how do you manage these games?
The first consideration has to be priorities – which games are most important to win? I think it’s fair to say that the number one priority is the U.S. Open Final for the reasons the RSL blog crew have hashed out for months. So no matter what Kreis chooses to do in the other games, it’s clear that he needs his first-choice team to arrive ready and rested on Tuesday night. After that game the priorities are not as clear-cut, but for me it’s the FC Dallas game on October 5. It’s a home game and represents the better opportunity to get three points.
That’s not to say that Saturday's game at Vancouver game is a throwaway by any means. It’s still important – especially given the low point that Salt Lake is going through right now – that they at least show up and compete well. Going into the Open Cup Final on a three-game losing streak would be less than ideal from a confidence standpoint. With that in mind, there are going to have to be some lineup changes against the Whitecaps. Considering the Tuesday game and the fact that Vancouver plays on turf, it makes sense to consider resting the legs that have the most miles – season and/or career – on them.
I would consider resting guys like Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales and Ned Grabavoy because they’re definitely going to be in Tuesday’s plans, so it might be unwise to risk an injury to one of them. Lovel Palmer, Brandon McDonald, Yordany Alvarez, Khari Stephenson and Sebastian Velasquez are certainly capable of replacing them without a big drop in quality. That’s the beauty of being probably the deepest team in the league.
For the U.S. Open Cup game, there will be no holding back. Perhaps this game could even see the return of injured forward Alvaro Saborio. In any case, there’s no way Kreis fields anything less than his best available group. Nobody should underestimate D.C. based on the admittedly horrible MLS season they’ve had. If anything, the disappointment of their league play will further motivate them since Open Cup is the last thing they have to play for this year. United will be a desperate and motivated team, and last week we saw what a desperate team is capable of.
With the Open Cup game behind them (and hopefully with a trophy in tow), RSL can return its focus to the Dallas game and playoff positioning. In the past Kreis has shown no reservations about trotting out guys who played 90 minutes just days before, so his lineup choices will probably be based on how players are feeling after the previous two games and who’s most in form.
This three-game stretch is one of the last opportunities for the team to get their form right before the playoffs, and some less-used players are going to have to step up and play big.
Real Salt Lake will take on the Portland Timbers for the third time in 24 days on Friday, when it will host the Cascadia club in a nationally-televised match at 8:00 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.
RSL is unbeaten against Portland this year, beating the Timbers 2-1 in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Semifinal at Rio Tinto Stadium on Aug. 7 before scoring a 93rd minute goal to tie 3-3 at Portland on Aug. 21.
Highlights from both of those matches are above. Check them out.
Real Salt Lake advanced to its first Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final on Wednesday night, beating the Portland Timbers 2-1 in the USOC Semis at Rio Tinto Stadium to advance to the tournament’s title game on Oct. 1 at home against D.C. United.
Here are a few interesting numbers from Wednesday’s match:
Wednesday’s win moved RSL into its first ever Open Cup Final. The Oct. 1 final against D.C. United at Rio Tinto Stadium will be the first final ever contested or hosted in the state of Utah. Tickets are expected to go on sale to the game next week – get yours early and fill the RioT.
Wednesday’s crowd of 14,742 was the largest ever to see a U.S. Open Cup Semifinal in the modern/pro era, breaking the previous mark of 12,129 set by the minor-league Rochester Rhinos in 1996. Wednesday’s crowd was only the third semifinal in the modern/pro era to break the 10,000 mark.
Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio scored in the seventh minute of Wednesday’s game, heading a Kyle Beckerman cross off the post and into the back of the net to give the Claret-and-Cobalt the early lead. The goal was Saborio’s fifth in three games since returning to RSL from international duty ahead of the July 27 loss at New York. The Costa Rican international also had an assist in Wednesday’s match, giving him 10 goals and two assists in 12 appearances across all competitions this season. Real Salt Lake is now a dominant 33-6-8 in all competitions when Saborio scores.
Real Salt Lake defender Carlos Salcedo returned from injury to play the full 90 on Wednesday night. The 19-year-old center back turned in another solid shift for the Claret-and-Cobalt, helping the Utah side improve to 8-0-2 in his 10 appearances – nine of which have been starts – across all competitions this year.
Real Salt Lake has now won four games in this year’s Open Cup, doubling the two total wins it had in previous iterations of the tournament proper. RSL had other wins in Open Cup play in games, but only two in the tournament proper prior to this year.
It’s been well documented that tonight’s U.S. Open Cup Semifinal between RSL and Portland will be Timbers Captain Will Johnson’s first game at Rio Tinto Stadium since he was traded from the Claret-and-Cobalt to Portland last December.
Johnson went on OnFrame on Tuesday night ahead of tonight’s match, saying some really interesting things about his time in Salt Lake, life in Portland and comparisons between the two clubs.
Here are a couple of highlights from the conversation, the entirety of which can be heard by clicking here.
On how RSL’s and Portland’s fan bases compare:
“There’s more similarities than differences. They’re both very good faan bases and both have treated me exceptionally. I’m very proud to have played in front of both sets of fans…. The fan base in Salt Lake is still very special to me. They treated me exceptionally, they always had my back no matter what. Playing good, or playing bad, through all the ups and downs, they always had my back so they’ll always have a special place in my heart and I think that probably goes both ways for the majority of the RSL faithful.”
On making his return to Rio Tinto Stadium in such an important match:
“I wouldn’t have it any other way. My return here was always going to be special, regardless of the circumstances, but now with it being a cup game, a knockout game with the winner hosting the final, obviously there’s a little added incentive. I’m excited, can’t wait to get back out there and see all those familiar faces, regardless of if they’re razzing me a little bit more than previous times when I played at Rio Tinto. I’ll always have I think a mutual admiration and relationship between myself and the fans, so I can’t wait to get back out there. I think it’ll be a great spectacle and an entertaining match for everybody to see.”
Kickoff is at 7:30. Get your tickets here.