A year ago, Real Salt Lake marched to the U.S. Open Cup final without stepping into another stadium. The path this year is shaping up to be much more difficult.
Instead of playing in the cozy confines of Rio Tinto Stadium this Saturday, RSL kicks off Open Cup play on the road, in a 5,000-seat stadium, on a marginal turf field and in Atlanta humidity.
While the conditions certainly aren’t ideal, RSL defender Chris Wingert said home or away, facing lower-division teams in the Open Cup is never easy.
“All these games are pretty tough. They’re certainly going to be up for the matchup I’m sure. Even though we went to the final last year, we had trouble in every game,” said Wingert.
Among those struggles was a 3-2 overtime victory over the lower-division Atlanta Silverbacks in the Open Cup fourth round.
The teams meet again in the fourth round this year this Saturday at 6 p.m. at Silverbacks Park. The game will be streamed live at RealSaltLake.com and broadcast on the radio on ESPN700.
The winner advances to the fifth round to face the Colorado/Orlando City winner on road either June 24 or 25.
Coming off last weekend’s disappointing 3-1 home loss to Portland, RSL is anxious to get back on the field.
That extra focus should help Real Salt Lake, because Jeff Attinella — who spent two years with lower-division Tampa — knows from experience that Atlanta is going to put everything into the match.
“I’ve been on the other side of this where I was the lower division team trying to beat the big guys. I know they’re going to be really hungry and throw everything at us. They didn’t have a great spring season, but if they win this game it doesn’t really matter,” said Attinella.
Only six players return from last year’s Atlanta team that took RSL to overtime, but technical director Eric Wynalda has assembled another strong squad despite its 3-5-1 record in the spring season.
From what coach Jeff Cassar has seen on film, the Silverbacks have some dynamic players going forward that can present problems.
“With that being said, we feel like it’s a good matchup for us because they want to come out and be offensive at home, and we feel we can maybe get at them on the other end,” said Cassar.
Cassar said RSL will need to be patient, though. Even though Cassar doesn’t have to worry about juggling his line-ups between MLS games and Open Cup games this week, he certainly doesn’t have a full complement of players to choose from.
“Would I love to put out some other players? Sure. But I also have to make a decision what’s best for them, but also the team in the long run,” said Cassar.
Ned Grabavoy is out two to three weeks because of the hip injury picked up last weekend against Portland. With the game being played on turf, Joao Plata and Chris Schuler might also get the night off in Atlanta.
Regardless of who gets the nod, Attinella said RSL can’t afford a slow start.
“We don’t want to let them get on the front foot to start because we’ve seen teams do it before, they can bunker, they can play real defensive. We have to come out from the first whistle firing so they know we’re hear to play,” he said.
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