Tom Smart, Deseret News
SANDY — It was a disastrous night for Major League Soccer teams in the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday night, and Real Salt Lake was right in the thick of it.
Despite declarations from management about the importance of trying to win the U.S. Open Cup this year — including buying out the right to host Tuesday's game — Real Salt Lake's stay in the tournament was a brief one with a shocking 3-1 loss to lower-division Minnesota Stars FC in front of 17,212 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"They just wanted to win more than we did, which is embarrassing. I think we owe a debt of gratitude and apology first and foremost to our ownership and to the management for pulling strings and working extremely hard to get the match here," said RSL coach Kreis. "And we owe an apology to our fans 'cause that was a terrific crowd for an Open Cup match and we let them down miserably."
Kreis didn't want to take anything away from Minnesota. He thought the Stars came in and played a great tactical match and deserved the win regardless of RSL's missed chances or the penalty kick.
Rather, he was very frustrated with the lack of effort on his team's part.
"From minute one to minute 90, it looked like they wanted it more than we did," said Kreis. "We've been preaching the same message to our team for many, many years here, which is if they're not going to be fully committed to the game, they're not going to get results. And tonight they came in about 75 percent and thought it was going to be good enough, and it clearly was not."
Real Salt Lake was one of seven MLS teams to bow out of the U.S. Open Cup against a lower-division opponent on Tuesday. The others were Houston, Chicago, Columbus, FC Dallas, New England and Los Angeles. RSL's all-time record in U.S. Open Cup competition now stands at 5-8.
Kreis cautioned prior to the match that Minnesota would be an organized, quality team, as evidenced by its 4-0-4 record in the NASL this year.
Nat Borchers even acknowledged prior to the game that it would be foolish to expect to run away with the victory from the opening whistle.
Nobody could've envisioned that the visitors would be the aggressors. Just three minutes into the match, Minnesota's Kevin Venegas headed home a goal for 1-0 lead. It took Real Salt Lake a while to find its rhythm, but it finally found the equalizer on a Luis Gil long-range shot in the 29th minute.
The momentum was short-lived for the home team.
Minnesota's Neil Hlavaty converted a penalty kick just before halftime after Jamison Olave was whistled for a handball in the box to put the Stars back in front 2-1. In the 58th minute, Simone Bracealello scored again to increase the visitors' lead to 3-1.
"We keep leaking goals; we're getting away with it league play," said Ned Grabavoy.
RSL had several quality chances to try and get back into the game, but the final touch or shot were never there. It's hard to imagine RSL not capitalizing on those chances if RSL regulars Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Will Johnson, Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola had been available.
And at the end of the day, even though Real Salt Lake owns the best record in MLS right now, Grabavoy said there's still a lot of work ahead.
"This is a different team than 2009 or 2010. I sometimes think we feel too good about ourselves," he said. "It's a different group, and we haven't won anything for a while.
"I think winning is a habit, and there's a lot of guys that still got to prove they can win. Just win games, whether it's reserve league, first team, exhibition, games in training; at this level, it's all about winning — period."
Real Salt Lake will have a long time to dwell on Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup loss, though, as it doesn't return to action until June 16 when it visits Chivas USA.
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