Herriman • Real Salt Lake may have a three-week break from official Major League Soccer competition, but that doesn’t mean it won’t play games against MLS teams.
For the 2019 U.S. Open Cup, the fourth round of which starts Tuesday, RSL drew Los Angeles Football Club, which sits atop the league with 37 points. In the last two years, Real has bowed out after playing just one game in the tournament, losing to Sporting Kansas City in 2018 and United Soccer League side Sacramento Republic FC the year before.
In its previous two U.S. Open Cup games, RSL played many of its reserve players and lost handily. And there’s a perception that the results in recent years meant the team did not take competing in the U.S. Open Cup seriously.
But RSL players and coaches push back on that idea.
“I think everyone cares about the result the same,” midfielder Nick Belser told The Salt Lake Tribune last week. “I think it just depends on kind of how the schedule shapes up.”
In past seasons, the MLS schedule was such that having to play a U.S. Open Cup game forced teams competing in the tournament to use reserve players for those games. On the other hand, teams like the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City have put effort into performing well in the tournament in recent years, and have been rewarded with berths to the CONCACAF Champions League.
This season, however, is a bit different for RSL. With three weeks in between MLS games, the club can afford for some of its regular starters to get some playing time and still get a considerable amount of rest before its next game on June 22. Besler said the training sessions that have been going on since last Thursday are all about beating LAFC.
“I think it’s fortunate with the break in the regular season that we have,” Besler said. “We don’t have as many games as maybe some of the other clubs do. So we can try to stay as fresh as possible and hopefully we put out a good performance. It’s a competition we feel like maybe we can put a little bit more into it than we maybe have years past.”
RSL has never won an Open Cup. The last time the team made it past the fourth round — when MLS teams are brought in to the tournament — was 2016. Real went to penalty kicks against the Wilmington Hammerheads and won. Salt Lake then lost to the Seattle Sounders on penalties in the Round of 16.
The year before, RSL made it all the way to the semifinal and lost 1-0 to the L.A. Galaxy. In 2013, Real lost in the Open Cup final to D.C. United.
RSL veteran Kyle Beckerman said it would be “nice” to do well enough in the Open Cup and earn a CONCACAF berth. But from his perspective, the tournament is another opportunity to bring any kind of championship to the organization, which has not won anything of importance since the MLS Cup in 2009.
“Really I think it’s just probably your quickest opportunity to win a trophy,” Beckerman said, referring to needing only five wins to get the championship. “As we know, we only have one here. So to get another one would be huge. There’s still quite a few teams that are still searching for any trophy. So it’s an opportunity for us to get some hardware for the trophy case.”
While the break means more RSL players will be available against LAFC on Tuesday, four of them will be training with the Under-23 United States Men’s National Team for a week. Aaron Herrera, Sebastian Saucedo, Justen Glad and Brooks Lennon were all called up to participate in the weeklong camp, which will be conducted at the team’s training facility.
Assistant coach Freddy Juarez, who will be the head man on the sidelines Tuesday because Mike Petke will be away at a coaches’ convention for a week, said those four players are available for selection. However, the likelihood is that they will not play.
Juarez knows there is a perception that RSL shows it doesn’t care about the Open Cup because it doesn’t play its top guys for those games. But he stressed that the team will play to win.
“It’s no different,” Juarez said. “We want to win. We get paid for winning. We want to win for the fans, we want to win for us, we want to win to continue to grow as a team. … We’re taking it serious.”