SANDY — Thanks to a potent attack and a five-game winning streak, Real Salt Lake has been one of the hottest teams in Major League Soccer over the past month.
Three of those five wins were against MLS clubs, with the other two coming against lower-division foes in the early rounds of the U.S. Open Cup. Ironically enough, the lower-division teams proved to be a much tougher challenge for RSL, something coach Jason Kreis hopes to avoid repeating Wednesday night against Carolina.
“It is a home game for us, and the most important thing is how we handle ourselves, what type of attitude and spirit we come out with, 'cause we’ve seen in the last two matches in the Open Cup we haven’t quite got that solved. So I’m hoping the third time will be a charm,” said Kreis.
Real Salt Lake needed overtime to beat Atlanta and Charleston to advance to the Open Cup quarterfinals, and a win over lower-division Carolina at 7:30 p.m. would put the club into the semifinals for the first time in franchise history.
“Knowing that we’re three games away from a trophy is very exciting,” said defender Tony Beltran.
With a victory, RSL would be in great position to continue its Open Cup march as it successfully bid to host the Portland-Dallas winner in the semifinals.
“Our intent this year is to win it. There’s no kind of half goals being the furthest we’ve ever been. We’re focused and have our goals set on winning the whole thing,” said Kreis.
With a league match in Toronto on Saturday, Kreis would love to see his team take care of business in regulation against Carolina to avoid key players logging an extra 30 minutes. That won’t be easy against a Carolina team that upset the L.A. Galaxy and Chivas USA to advance to the quarterfinals.
The RailHawks are 5-1-4 in NASL play so far in 2013, good enough for first place. Two Carolina players, Austin da Luz and Julius James, were once first-round MLS draft picks.
The rest of the players will be relative unknowns heading into the match, a big reason these Open Cup matches are so tough for MLS teams.
“When you play the lower-division teams, there’s maybe one or two teams they’ve seen before, but the rest are going to be new faces, new systems, new tactics, so it does present some challenges,” said Kreis.
Beltran said the lower-division teams also present a different type of challenge.
“I’m sure they’re going to be coming out here same as the last two teams, ready to fight, ready for an opportunity against a higher-division team. They don’t get to play us every week, so it’s going to be big for them,” said Beltran.
In watching film of his opponent, Kreis said Carolina is a strong attacking team with quality wide midfielders and two “industrial” forwards who know how to make good runs and find spaces within the defense.
Wednesday’s match is the last of a bizarre seven-game homestand for Real Salt Lake, which has enjoyed a 5-0-1 mark during the stretch with a 14-5 goal differential.