SANDY — Ultimately, Real Salt Lake advanced to the quarterfinal round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
But it was anything but easy.
RSL fell behind against the USL's Charleston Battery by two goals in the first half and faced an uphill battle the rest of the night. However, the club fought back to send the match into overtime, and it got three goals in extra time to emerge with a thrilling 5-2 win over the Battery Wednesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“What a terrific reaction from our players,” said RSL coach Jason Kreis. “What a terrific mindset to battle back to get level with two goals, and to get to overtime and be dominant was outstanding. We’ll do as we typically do, which is to look more at the positives than the negatives.”
The visitors shocked the home crowd in the 16th minute when forward Dane Kelly beat RSL goalkeeper Josh Saunders at the far post for the game's opening goal. Kelly took a beautiful through pass from Jarad van Schaik that caught the defense sleeping.
Things only got worse for the home team when Nicki Paterson put Charleston up 2-0 just minutes later. Paterson was unmarked in the box after a Quinton Griffith shot took a deflection off the post.
“The reaction for the next 10 or 15 minutes was very poor,” said Kreis. “That second goal put us in a really awkward position.”
RSL's players were the aggressors for the remainder of the half, unleashing a handful of shots. But none of them reached the back of the net, and the home side also failed to convert on four corner kicks in the final 25 minutes of the half.
Meanwhile, the Charleston counterattack was very dangerous as the game progressed. Multiple times the Battery had three or four players streaking down the field in an attempt to secure a third goal.
“Obviously you're carrying a ton of momentum. I’ve seen it so many times, but you want to maintain your composure and keep the group together and we’ve got to stay honest,” said Saunders.
The second half was all RSL, with the home team looking to erase the two-goal deficit.
Charleston didn’t make things easy, oftentimes electing to throw eight players into the box and challenge RSL to produce a moment of brilliance.
Devon Sandoval finally responded, putting the Claret and Cobalt on the score sheet with a brilliant header in the 67th minute. Sandoval found himself on the right end of a beautifully weighted ball into the box from defender Tony Beltran.
Coming on the pitch as a second-half substitution, RSL forward Joao Plata proved to be the spark that brought life to his team's attack. On multiple occasions down the left flank, Plata controlled possession and facilitated the attack.
His effort paid dividends when the young forward drew a penalty in the box to give RSL a chance to equalize in the 79th minute. Charleston 'keeper Odisnel Cooper didn’t even have a chance, as Plata drilled the equalizer to the delight of 13,763 screaming fans at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“I feel happy because the coach gave me some minutes, and I try to put everything that I’ve got on the field,” said Plata.
RSL wasn't able to find the third goal in regulation, and would have to settle for extra time.
In the first period of extra time, RSL successfully buried its opponent.
Sandoval converted a second goal off his head to give RSL a 3-2 advantage. That goal lifted the rookie into an elite class, as he's tied for scoring the most goals by an RSL player all time in the U.S. Open Cup, joining Andy Williams, Kyle Beckerman and Kreis with three goals apiece.
Khari Stephenson wowed the crowd at Rio Tinto yet again, blasting a rocket into the upper-right corner to give the Claret and Cobalt a much needed two-goal advantage. Javier Morales followed suit with a penalty kick in the waning moments of the first extra time, giving RSL its fifth goal in 40 minutes.
In this 100th edition of the U.S. Open Cup, RSL will next host the NASL's Carolina RailHawks in the quarterfinals June 26th.
Follow me on Twitter: TheConner88