SANDY — Real Salt Lake can do no wrong these days. Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert proved that Wednesday night.
The outside backs each scored a goal against the Carolina RailHawks to spearhead their club's 3-0 victory in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals. It was just the second career goal in all competitions for the two defenders.
“A lot of the game comes down to our outside backs when we play against teams that sit as deep as they do. It’s about making aggressive decisions at the right time, and forcing the players in front of them to make decisions, finding right passes and getting strikes on goal. So I’m very, very pleased for both of those guys,” said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
Beltran scored in the 35th minute to put RSL ahead 1-0, his first goal since 2011 when he scored against Wilmington in a 2-0 U.S. Open Cup victory.
“Personal accolades aside, I’m just happy the team made it through this round and we put ourselves in a good position to win a trophy," Beltran said.
Wingert’s 51st-minute strike put RSL ahead 2-0, and it was his first goal since scoring against Chivas USA back in May 2010.
“I ran over to him, and he said, 'You're trying to show me up,'” joked Wingert about Beltran’s reaction to his goal.
CENTURY MARK: Kreis recorded his 100th career coaching victory in all competitions during Wednesday’s triumph over Carolina.
Kreis’ all-time record now stands at 100-79-60 over all competitions. His all-time record in MLS play is 83-65-50.
After the match, Kreis reflected on reaching the milestone and what being a part of Real Salt Lake means to him.
“Obviously I feel like this is my home. This is my family,” said Kreis. “This is where it all started, and this is where I was given my first chance.”
MORE GOOD VIBES: Khari Stephenson made his fourth start in the past five matches and sixth straight appearance Wednesday night, as Kreis continues to reward the newcomer with the fourth midfielder slot in RSL’s diamond midfield.
Stephenson’s long-range shot brings a different element to the table for RSL, and he’s been a difference-maker.
Even though Stephenson didn’t score Wednesday, he’s scored in three of the past six matches and has been a major contributor to RSL’s strong form the past couple of months.
“We’ve been winning games, and winning games pretty decisively. He’s a guy that comes in there and it’s kind of a seamless transition. He likes to play soccer; he’s good on the ball; he looks to combine. He gives us a little bit of a bigger presence on set pieces and free kicks,” said Ned Grabavoy. “Without question since he’s been in there we’ve been winning games and he’s going to be rewarded with more starts.”
OTHER PRIORITIES: Lower-division Carolina talked the talk and then walked the walk at Rio Tinto Stadium.
This weekend Carolina hosts Atlanta, and a win guarantees that the RailHawks host the NASL championship in November. Perhaps not surprisingly, that was more important than trying to pull off an unlikely upset Wednesday.
“Our main focus is still the season,” captain Floyd Franks told the News & Observer earlier this week. “Even though we have a big game at Salt Lake, the biggest game is at home with Atlanta.”
Coach Colin Clarke agreed with that notion, as Franks, NASL leading scorer Brian Shriver and NASL assist leader Austen Da Luz all started the match on the bench.
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