Here’s a bold statement to start your week: Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup Semifinal between Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers at Rio Tinto Stadium is RSL's biggest game of the year so far by a wide margin, and could end up being the club’s biggest match of the entire season.
Make no mistake about it; Wednesday’s game is serious business. Here are a few reasons why the semifinal is RSL’s most important match in a long time:
There's a trophy on the line
Excluding trophies from rivalry games and whatnot, American soccer teams are only eligible for three domestic trophies. The U.S. Open Cup is one of them. The RSL players, coaches, and staff have repeatedly said that they want to win more trophies for this club, and that they should have more trophies given the quality of the team for the last four years. I can't disagree with them - RSL has consistently been one of the top teams in the league but they don't have enough hardware to show for it. The Open Cup is a golden opportunity to add to the tally, and while Real is still very much in contention to win the other two trophies this year (Supporter's Shield and MLS Cup), those two are much farther off and there is much more competition for them.
A Champions League berth is up for grabs
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis has said in no uncertain terms that he badly wants to get this team back to the CONCACAF Champions League. That's easier said than done, as a maximum of four American MLS teams qualify for the competition each year. The only guaranteed ways for U.S. squads to earn a berth are to make it to the MLS Cup final, win the Supporter's Shield, or win the U.S. Open Cup. As mentioned above, the first two options are currently very complicated. But there are only four teams left standing - and only two games remaining - in U.S. Open play. Clearly this is the shortest path to that coveted Champions League spot.
It's a major tournament semifinal
These kinds of opportunities (for players and fans) don't come along every day. Being this deep in a tournament is a big deal. Believe it or not, with all the success RSL has enjoyed over the last few years, only once before has Real contested a tournament semifinal at home. That match was the 2010-11 Champion's League semifinal on March 15, 2011 with RSL cruising to a 2-0 win over Deportivo Saprissa (Editor's Note: RSL also hosted the 2008 Eastern Conference Final, which the team lost 1-0 to New York. We regret the eariler error). There were no semifinals played in Utah before then and there hasn't been once since. That all changes on Wednesday.
Win, and RSL will host the Open Cup Final
The winner of Wednesday’s RSL-Portland match will host the winner of the Chicago Fire-D.C. United semi in the U.S. Open Cup Final later this year. That’s a huge incentive. Home finals are even rarer than home semifinals, and – should RSL win on Wednesday – it’ll be a heavy favorite in the title game. The winner of the United-Fire semifinal will have to make a long trip to play the final in a difficult environment. Also - and no disrespect intended here - Salt Lake (38 points in MLS play) is a step above the Fire (28 points) and D.C. United (13 points) in terms of quality.
Of course, RSL still has to get by a tough Timbers side to get to the final. That will be a tall task, and the Claret-and-Cobalt will need your voice if they’re to advance. Hope to see you all at the RioT on Wednesday.
Real Salt Lake advanced to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Semifinal on Wednesday night, derailing the Carolina RailHawks 3-0 in the USOC Quarters at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting numbers from the match:
Wednesday’s victory was the 100th in all competitions of RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis’s career. The Claret-and-Cobalt boss is now 83-65-50 in MLS regular season play, 4-5-5 in the MLS Cup Playoffs, 8-4-4 in the CONCACAF Champions League and 5-5-1 in the U.S. Open Cup.
Real Salt Lake fullbacks Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert both scored on Wednesday night, with Beltran putting the Claret-and-Cobalt on top late in the first half before Wingert doubled RSL’s advantage early in the second 45. Despite combining for over 30,000 minutes in the RSL careers, Wingert and Beltran only have two professional goals each. Wingert has one MLS goal and one Open Cup goal while Beltran has two Open Cup strikes.
Wednesday’s win was RSL’s sixth-consecutive victory, breaking the club record five-game winning streaks accomplished in 2010 and 2011. RSL has scored multiple goals in all six wins in the streak, outscoring its opponents by a 19-5 margin. The Claret-and-Cobalt is on an eight-game unbeaten run across all comps, last losing on May 11 at Montreal.
RSL forward Alvaro Saborio scored in the 85th minute on Wednesday night. The tally was his first-ever goal in Open Cup play and his 58th in 105 games across all competitions. RSL is now 32-5-7 in games in which Saborio scores.
Wednesday’s crowd of 10,287 was the fifth-highest attended game in Open Cup Quarterfinal history and the largest crowd of Wednesday’s four games. During the eight games at Rio Tinto Stadium between May 25 and June 26, nearly 136,000 fans passed through the turnstiles for RSL games in MLS (3-0-1, 75,250 fans), Open Cup (3-0-0, 39,500); and U.S. Men’s National Team (1-0-0, 20,250).
Real Salt Lake will look to advance one step closer to the 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup trophy on Wednesday night, when it will host a Quarterfinal match against the NASL’s Carolina RailHawks at 7:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Here are a few interesting storylines ahead of Wednesday’s match:
RSL looking to make history
RSL has never advanced to the Open Cup Semifinals. The Claret-and-Cobalt made the Quarterfinals in 2006 and 2011, losing 2-0 to the Colorado Rapids in 2006 and bowing out 2-0 to FC Dallas in the 2011 tournament.
A win on Wednesday would put RSL in the Open Cup Semifinal for the first time in club history, moving the team one step closer to the title and the CONCACAF Champions League berth that goes along with it.
Kreis gunning for win No. 100
RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis is looking for win No. 100 on Wednesday night. The Claret-and-Cobalt boss has 99 wins in all competitions since retiring as a player to take over the team in May 2007, posing a 83-65-50 record in the MLS regular season, a 4-5-5 record in the MLS Cup Playoffs, a 8-4-4 record in the CONCACAF Champions League and a 4-5-1 mark in the U.S. Open Cup.
Sandoval aiming for Open Cup milestone
Though he’s only played in two Open Cup games in his career, Real Salt Lake rookie forward Devon Sandoval could very well become the Claret-and-Cobalt’s all-time leading USOC scorer on Wednesday night.
The second-round pick in this year’s draft has three goals in RSL’s first two Open Cup matches, scoring once in the team’s May 28 win over the Atlanta Silverbacks and adding two in the team’s June 12 victory over the Charleston Battery. He’s tied for the all-time RSL lead in Open Cup goals with Captain Kyle Beckerman, Kreis and former RSL midfielder and current Head Scout Andy Williams.
Lengthy home stand coming to a close
Wednesday’s match is RSL’s seventh and final of its massive home stand. The Claret-and-Cobalt has dominated during its extended run at Rio Tinto Stadium, posting a 5-0-1 record in MLS and Open Cup play since the home stand began on May 25 against the Chicago Fire.
RSL will hit the road this Saturday, when it will take on Eastern Conference foe Toronto FC at BMO Field at 11:00 a.m. Due to FCC regulations, CW30 will broadcast the game on an hour-long tape delay beginning at 12:00 p.m. The Claret-and-Cobalt will return home following the Toronto match, taking on the Philadelphia Union in a fireworks game at 8:00 p.m. next Wednesday, July 3.
Real Salt Lake faces the NASL leading Carolina RailHawks Wednesday in the Quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Luckily for the Claret-and-Cobalt, midfielder Enzo Martinez played for Carolina earlier this year while on a short term loan, appearing in three games and totaling 74 minutes played, and had the scoop on the RailHawks.
Here is how the former North Carolina Tar Heel felt about the second-division side:
On what it was like to play for Carolina:
“It was good. I got playing time, which I liked. I enjoyed all of the players. [They] Were really good guys. I played with like five or six of them from before so they are a good team, hard-working team, a humble team so it’ll be a good one.”
On Carolina forward Brian Shriver, who leads NASL with eight goals:
“He’s a great player. He’s a true number nine. When he gets an opportunity, he puts it in the back of the net. He’s got a lot of speed. I think both of their forwards combine well and know each other really well. I know Shriver from North Carolina so I think he’s a great player.”
On what fans can expect from the RailHawks at Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday night:
“I think they’ll be more open. When I played with them, even when we played away, they didn’t sit back. They tried to score goals and that’s what they do right. So I don’t think they’ll be sitting back too much. Maybe they’ll be smart about how they press, but not like Charleston.”
Continuing a fine U.S. Open Cup run which has surely frustrated and delighted Jason Kreis in equal measure, Real Salt Lake faces yet another side from the lower leagues in the form of Carolina Railhawks on Wednesday at Rio Tinto Stadium. With both preceding matches in this run-up having taken 120 minutes to run their course, Kreis will be looking to ensure his side wins in regulation.
But how can it be done? It's simple, really. Stretch the play but don't get stretched yourself. And insofar as it is simple, it is also a difficult task, and one which requires a concerted effort to really pull together in a cohesive manner, as it invariably involves a slew of moving parts.
Let's start with some base-level assumptions: Carolina Railhawks will come in looking to win. That's an easy one. Perhaps the most tried-and-true method — and one that has nearly felled us twice in this competition this season alone — is to leave defenders and midfielders in retreated positions while one or (if they're feeling adventurous) two attackers attempt to capitalize on gaps in the defense. Let's operate under this assumption, as it seems the most likely.
The first question that must be answered: How can Real Salt Lake avoid getting caught in possession? The chances will likely spawn from Railhawks clearances or long passes from the defensive third, and they'll probably come after a good chance for an RSL attacker is scuppered at the last minute. It's when we'll be most eager to win the ball back (and naturally so) and we're more likely to commit somebody forward in search of regaining possession. And why not? Their defenders will almost certainly be on the back leg. But this creates a difficult scenario: If one or two players commit errors, the odds of a goal against skyrocket. If Carlos Salcedo or Nat Borchers makes an error there, the ball is free for the taking and even a moderately quick striker will be in on goal in no time. It's easy to simply say something like "Just don't make mistakes, boys," and hope that it works, but we all know (I would hope) that it's not so simple.
One solution, then: When the ball is lost in a good attacking area, retain confidence that you will soon be creating another and allow the opposition a little bit of harmless possession before regaining the ball; instead of pressing even harder than before, drop into more reasonable positions such that the defense is better supported. It's an exercise in prudence, and it's one we have sometimes suffered from. It's a difficult ask when you're among the best in the league at what you do — press hard in the midfield, gain possession, and create chances when the opposition isn't quite ready.
So now that we've quite obviously solved that unenviable task (sarcasm included for free here), let's move on to the other difficult question to answer: How can Real Salt Lake score goals without intense pressure in the attacking third to force errors? When the midfield and defense merge into one gelatinous (but remarkably solid) blob, the metaphorical parking of the bus makes goal creation intensely difficult.
The answer is simple, but the execution is certainly less so. The strikers, who are more likely to be attracting the attention of the central defenders, should be trading moments of stretching play laterally, drawing defenders wide or forcing a zonal shift. The former option allows more runs into the middle from midfielders; the latter allows unprotected full backs to get into play more readily. With one striker remaining in a central position and the other wide, a late run from anyone deeper than Javier Morales could lead to a tantalizing opportunity.
As fun as it's been to be a part of RSL's scintillating run of form in MLS play as of late, it's time to put that on hold for a few days. That's because a huge opportunity is knocking for the Claret-and-Cobalt this week: Their Quarterfinal matchup in the 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. On Wednesday RSL will host the NASL's Carolina Railhawks at Rio Tinto Stadium with a trip to the Semifinals against either the Portland Timbers or FC Dallas on the line. Real has talked about the emphasis being put on the tournament this year - talk which has been backed up by strong lineups thus far - and this game will be no different. Expect RSL to trot out its best available lineup for this one, in spite of this being the team's second of four matches in just 12 days. And if you're Jason Kreis, that makes sense when you consider the following:
- RSL is only three wins away from getting the CONCACAF Champion's League berth that goes to the winner of the U.S. Open Cup. When you consider the various paths that lead to a Champion's League spot, at the moment this one is by far the easiest.
- The stars seems to be lining up for RSL. It's almost like some unearthly force wants Salt Lake to win the Cup. Kreis is fond of saying "fortune favors the bold", but sometimes fortune just favors the fortunate. Real has played all three of their Open Cup matches at home, and if they win, they will also host the Semifinal match. While the odds of winning a coin flip (which is how match venues are determined in the USOC) are 1 out of 2, the odds of winning four straight coin flips like RSL just did are only 1 out of 16. On top of that, Salt Lake also has yet to face an MLS opponent in Open Cup play.
- The Quarterfinals is the farthest RSL have ever advanced in this tournament. A win on Wednesday would break new ground for the franchise.
As I wrote last week, any fan who hasn't experienced a U.S. Open match needs to get down to the stadium for this one. Both teams are going to be highly motivated since a win gets them two wins away from hoisting the trophy and their next match would be at home. Carolina will be a decided underdog against the MLS league leaders, but don't underestimate the RailHawks - they've done well in the tournament before and have already sent Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy packing this year. Carolina's roster is loaded with ex-MLS talent and plenty of young MLS players on loan, and their coach Colin Clarke is a familiar face in MLS circles, heading up FC Dallas from 2003-2006.
For RSL's part, fielding a strong lineup means they will be anxious to take command of the match early and not give Carolina a chance to get a late equalizer or winner. If a criticism can be made of RSL's Open Cup run so far, it's that both previous matches against lower-division opponents have gone to extra time. RSL eventually showed their quality in those matches, but they made for tense moments and extra work to be done. With four games in 12 days, Kreis won't be eager to see his team put in 120 minutes on Wednesday - strong emphasis will be placed and getting ahead and not allowing a comeback.
A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.
"It's a trophy. I want to win that. I want to win a trophy this year for our club, for our fans, for everyone. So why not put a bunch of emphasis on it? Why not make our stand in the Open Cup?"
Real Salt Lake is ready for tomorrow night's USOC Quarterfinal. Are you?
Good news RSL fans!
— Real Salt Lake (@RealSaltLake) June 24, 2013
Come out on Wednesday night, eat a free hot dog and help RSL get one step closer to the Open Cup trophy and a return to the CONCACAF Champions League. Get your tickets here.
If you're anything like me, when things in the soccer world are going well, life just seems to be a little bit better. It's hard not to leave Rio Tinto Stadium with a smile when your team earns three well-deserved points. If it seems like your post-game walk to the car has often been a happy one lately, that's because it has - teams that call Rio Tinto Stadium home have been extraordinarily successful as of late. Consider the following:
- RSL is on fire in MLS play right now. Since the beginning of May, the Claret-and-Cobalt have collected a league-best 16 points in just 7 matches. Along the way they've found the back of the net a whopping 17 times. At home they've taken 10 of a possible 12 points with a goal differential of +7.
- While all that MLS action was going down, RSL also managed to find success in U.S. Open Cup play. May/June saw two home contests, both won by RSL, both against lower-division foes, though it wasn't easy as both games went into extra time before Salt Lake could secure the victories. As in MLS play, goals have been plentiful for Real in the USOC as they've managed to score eight times in those two matches, with five of those goals coming in 60 total minutes of extra time played.
- The weather wasn't all that was hot on Tuesday night as the U.S. Men's National Team continued their torrid run of form in dispatching Honduras 1-0 in the CONCACAF Hexagonal. The U.S. men started their streak of good results on June 2 with a thumping of world soccer power Germany 4-3 in a final tuneup before three straight World Cup Qualifiers. After that they took their show on the road in Jamaica where a dramatic stoppage-time goal by Brad Evans gave the Red, White, and Blue three crucial road points. All eyes then focused on Seattle where the Nats easily handled Panama with perhaps their best showing in the last few years, setting the stage for this week's victory at Rio Tinto. That win was the U.S.'s fourth straight, giving the team all nine possible points in World Cup qualifying in June. With six games down and four to go, the U.S. is now in command of The Hex from the top of the table, two points ahead of Costa Rica and five points clear of Mexico. It's not over until it's over, but thanks to the current hot streak we all got to be a part of, the U.S. is a virtual lock for the 2014 World Cup.
It's interesting to note that the U.S. men and Real Salt Lake have found their recent success by different means. For the U.S. team, their success has come from stability - for the first time in a long time, lineups and player personnel decisions were consistent. For RSL, their success has come from versatility - with the crowded schedule, injuries, and international absences, most of the roster has seen minutes in MLS and/or U.S. Open Cup play. For the U.S. team, their scoring load has been shouldered by Jozy Altidore who has scored in all four of the States' recent wins, while for RSL, their scoring load has been spread far and wide - nine different players have scored since the start of May. This goes to show that what two teams need to be successful are not necessarily the same. It also illustrates the difference between a cluster of three games followed by a long break (where consistency is needed) vs. the constant grind of a nine-month MLS season (where flexibility is needed).
If you've missed out on these red-hot teams in their various competitions, don't fret - both clubs will be back at Rio Tinto shortly.
- RSL has three MLS home games in the next month, starting this Saturday with Seattle paying a visit. This is a great chance for RSL to continue their strong run in league play while climbing the table and also putting some distance between them and a Western Conference foe.
- Real will be contesting their U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal match at home next Wednesday against Carolina. If you've never given the USOC a chance, this would be a good time to see what it's all about. We've seen two good matches already, but the U.S. Open Cup gets even more compelling starting now as teams realize that they're only a couple of wins away from a CONCACAF Champions League berth. You will see playoff-atmosphere soccer in this one, especially considering the winner hosts a USOC Semifinal against Portland or Dallas.
- The U.S. men will be back to Rio Tinto on July 13 for a Gold Cup tilt against Cuba. Granted, this won't be the strongest team the U.S. is capable of fielding, but it gives us a look at some up-and-coming players on the national scene. Nothing is for certain but this game could have a couple RSL players featuring prominently while the likes of Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey get a well-deserved vacation. Plus it's still high-level international soccer; if you haven't experienced international soccer, it has a unique vibe to it. Everyone needs to be a part of something like this at least once.
We've been blessed with lots of great soccer - and great teams - at Rio Tinto Stadium recently, and it's not over yet. See you out here!
A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.
Lower-league opponents in the U.S. are nearly always a tricky bag, and Charleston Battery further exemplified this rule. Compact, decisive, and quick, the Battery gave everyone a good scare when they scored the first two goals of the match. The question, then: How did Real Salt Lake adjust for their comeback?
Everyone got better. This is easy to say and hard to do, and it doesn't say much of anything from a tactical perspective. That said, it's difficult to execute any tactical decisions when you're looking at the worst you've been in some time. Everybody stepped up their quality in the second half.
A center back was removed. With the impetus on Real Salt Lake to get back into the affair, and with the Battery quite rightly sitting very deep and hoping to fend off an undoubtedly inevitable onslaught, two defenders almost seemed extraneous. Making his first club appearance — an admittedly poor one at that — Aaron Maund stepped off shortly into the second half and Jason Kreis switched the formation.
It took a quintessential attacking 3-4-3 to really break down the Battery defense. Joao Plata and Robbie Findley occupied the attacking flanks, with Devon Sandoval serving as a target man and grabbing two headed goals along the way. Javier Morales and Ned Grabavoy served as the more-attacking midfielders (they really did all attack) and Khari Stephenson and Kyle Beckerman sat deeper and more centrally. Chris Wingert tucked in slightly centrally to position himself better for runs down the middle, and Tony Beltran bombed forward from right back to stretch play.
We stretched play superbly. When we face a hyper-defensive side — and again, there's not an ounce of blame in that for Charleston in their strategy — we have historically struggled to break them down. With Findley and Plata wide to stretch play laterally and Devon Sandoval to stretch along the vertical axis, it became difficult for Charleston to ignore any of those three players up top. Given their proclivity for staying in central positions, this opened room for Plata and Findley to receive clever passes from the midfield and cut inside. Even when they weren't involved in goalscoring movement like that, both players were important to the fightback.