Sandy • By the time U.S. Open Cup play had started at Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday night, the San Jose Earthquakes had lost in front of a crowd of 1,950-something in Charleston, S.C., and the Colorado Rapids had been dominated, 3-1, by a soccer team in Orlando.
And D.C. United needed penalty kicks to beat a team called the Richmond Kickers.
Real Salt Lake, meanwhile, appeared uninterested in becoming another Major League Soccer squad to fall to a team from a lower league.
It took extra time, but RSL survived an overtime matchup with the Atlanta Silverbacks 3-2 in front of a rain-soaked crowd of nearly 10,000 Tuesday night.
After losing 3-1 to the Minnesota Stars in last year’s Open Cup, a defeat RSL coach Jason Kreis called “the worst night” in team history, Salt Lake promised a more aggressive approach to the tournament this time around.
“I want to win this tournament,” Kreis said, “and I want to win it in the worst way.”
RSL forward Robbie Findley blasted a shot from inside the 6-yard box to win a corner kick in the game’s opening moments. On the ensuing kick, Javier Morales lined up at the left corner flag to put the ball on the head of an unmarked Kyle Beckerman for a fourth-minute goal.
RSL dominated possession in the first half but could not add to its lead.
RSL almost had another in the 26th minute. After some combination play by Morales and Findley, Morales found himself one-on-one with Atlanta goalkeeper Joe Nasco. But RSL’s maestro fired wide of frame.
The missed opportunity would come back to haunt Salt Lake.
With the game winding down, the Silverbacks’ counterattack found a streaking Ruben Luna down the right channel. Luna centered the ball to Kellen Gulley, on loan from the Chicago Fire, whose shot tipped off RSL goalkeeper Josh Saunders’ fingers and into the twine.
“We were very clear with our team yesterday. Honestly, that’s a very good team,” Kreis said. “There are a lot of players in our country that are playing soccer right now who can play. They’re not all in the MLS.”
By the time the first extra period began, RSL appeared to be another MLS team in danger of an early exit from the Open Cup.
But the cold crowd erupted when rookie forward Devon Sandoval buried a cross from teammate Joao Plata to give Salt Lake a lead, and then again when midfielder Khari Stephenson blasted a goal from distance.
So by the time Atlanta’s Pablo Cruz beat Saunders for Atlanta’s second goal, RSL already had the match in hand. With the victory, RSL advances to the next round of the Open Cup and will host a match June 12.
“Realistically, anytime you go out on the field you want to put your best effort forward, especially in this competition [because] you’re playing for a trophy,” Saunders said. “There’s prize money, there’s a trophy on the line, there’s bragging rights, there’s Champions League. There are so many aspects that go along with this game that we want to put a lot into it. And some of these games, if you take the these teams lightly, they’ll come at you.”
Just ask RSL’s next Open Cup opponent, the Charleston Battery, a team that beat the San Jose Earthquakes to stay alive in the tournament.
U.S. Open Cup RSL 3, Atlanta 2
O RSL jumps out to a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute, but needs extra-time goals from Devon Sandoval and Khari Stephenson to finish off Atlanta.
• RSL improves to 6-8-0 all time in Open Cup play.
• RSL will host the Charleston Battery on June 12.