Real Salt Lake drops first game of U.S. Open Cup for third straight year in 3-0 loss to LAFC

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake forward Sam Johnson (50) flies over Los Angeles FC defender Danilo Silva (6) as Real Salt Lake hosts Los Angeles Football Club in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, June 11, 2019 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy.

Sandy • Real Salt Lake made a point to stress that when the U.S. Open Cup comes around, not only does the team care, but it actually sets out to compete and even win.

But on Tuesday against Los Angeles Football Club, the most competitive RSL got was when defender Donny Toia got in the face of Latif Blessing after fouling him and receiving a yellow card, and had to be separated from Blessing by a push from another LAFC player.

Other than that, the game felt as though RSL was going through the motions, and it paid the price with a 3-0 loss in the tournament’s fourth round — the first round for most Major League Soccer teams. The loss marks the third consecutive year that RSL bowed out of the Open Cup after just one game.

But maybe that’s what happens when facing an LAFC team that started some of its best players. Major League Soccer’s leading goal scorer Carlos Vela, Lee Nguyen and Christian Ramirez all played and played well. Two of them scored and gave RSL practically no chance to put up much of a fight.

For the first seven minutes, assistant coach Freddy Juarez said, he felt the team contained LAFC and moved well as a group. But Vela took the air of out Salt Lake’s sails with a hard strike in the 8th minute and put his team up 1-0.

“We take that one, you hit a little bit of a lull because you’re deflated a little bit and then it took us a while to kind of regain some confidence,” said Juarez, who filled in for Mike Petke because the head coach is at a U.S. Soccer PRO coaching license course for the week.

Juarez said that first goal by Vela was deflating not only because of when it happened, but who finished it.

That “little bit of a lull” seemed like a long one, and quality chances at goal were few and far between for Real. There were moments RSL would make good runs and have what looked like a chance at goal, but those hardly ended in shot attempts. RSL had only one shot on goal the entire game and created just three chances, per Opta.

Salt Lake had two genuine opportunities to score late in the game. One came in the 60th minute from Tate Schmitt, who was stopped by LAFC keeper Pablo Sisniega’s leg. The other was a header by Marcelo Silva on a set piece in the 81st, but his shot went just over the crossbar.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles looked clinical with its three goals from Vela, Nguyen and Adama Diomande, who finished off a rebound in stoppage time.

Despite how the game looked, the home team felt it competed to the best of its ability.

“When I came in to the game, it definitely looked like a lot of the guys were tired,” said Luke Mulholland, who played about 12 minutes as a sub. “They’d all worked hard. They’d put the effort in. But sometimes — goals change games and the quality sometimes can outweigh the effort.”

Juarez said Monday that RSL usually fares well against LAFC. That has shown not only this season where it was a stoppage-time goal away from a draw, but in last year’s knockout playoff round where Real eliminated Los Angeles on the road.

Regardless, Mulholland did not like the way the score read at the end of the evening.

“Teams shouldn’t be beating us 3- or 4-0, if I’m being honest,” Mulholland said. “We’re a quality side. We have to have that belief that we can step on the field and we can go toe to toe.”

Although RSL’s next MLS game isn’t until June 22, some players still felt like there was plenty to take from the Open Cup loss to LAFC. Schmitt said any time Real plays against Los Angeles is a good opportunity to see how they fare against one of the top teams in the league.

“Respect to them, they’re a very talented team,” Schmitt said. “But we’re going to probably learn from his game, watch a lot of film, see the things that we kind of didn’t do so well on and learn from it.”