Wednesday night Real Salt Lake's defenders stole the show, which hasn't happened for a long time. RSL's defense is known as stealthy and though to breakdown, however its not often considered flashy.
But, outside backs Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert definitely shook things up by each scoring a goal as Real Salt Lake defeated the Carolina RailHawks 3-0 Wednesday night.
Although the defenders made a bold claim for the best position group of the night — the forwards, midfield and keeper Josh Saunders all contributed as RSL advanced to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.
Here's a closer look at each position group and its grade for the night:
Starters: Alvaro Saborio and Robbie Findley
Substitutes: Joao Plata (64th minute) and Olmes Garcia (79th minute)
Alvaro Saborio had several chances to score and he finally headed one into the back of the net in the 86th minute. The score came off a precise pass by substitute Olmes Garcia, which found Saborio crashing the net.
“He worked hard last match, and didn’t score, and he worked hard again tonight — he probably should have scored another one. … It restores that confidence and momentum. I thought it was really critical that he had a goal tonight," coach Jason Kreis said.
Both Saborio and Robbie Findley lacked urgency throughout the first half, as did most of the team. They were unable to find any openings for each other, but the lack of offensive production mostly stemmed from the Carolina RailHawks defense. The USL Pro side sat deep in its half, which limited attacking options for RSL. Midfielder Kyle Beckerman voiced the difficulty that comes from playing a team utilizing that tactic.
"I think they had an idea to defend with 11 players and make it difficult for us," Beckerman said. "It's really tough to break a team down that's not going to expose themselves to try and go score. So it was just about being patient and take shots."
Garcia and Joao Plata both came in during the second half and had an immediate impact. The substitutes offered a lift of energy off the bench, which resulted in Saborio's goal.
Starters: Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman, Khari Stephenson and Ned Grabavoy
Substitute: Yordany Alvarez (79th minute)
The midfield was not RSL's classic, fine-tuned diamond Wednesday evening. The passing and communication was a far cry from its usual precision. Real Salt Lake's playmaker, Javier Morales, struggled to advance the ball and find open forwards, which hurt his team offensively. But, Morales did play solid defense and made it difficult for Carolina's offense to make it past midfield.
Kyle Beckerman played well overall, despite making a few passing errors. He played with urgency and fight, which in turn led to him winning a lot of 50-50 balls. He also cut off many passing lanes for Carolina and his defense in the midfield was key.
Yordany Alvarez came in for Morales in the 79th minute of play at the same time Olmes Garcia relieved Khari Stephenson. When these two subbed in, RSL appeared to drop into a 4-5-1 formation to slow the panicking, frantic RailHawks.
Starters: Nat Borchers, Carlos Salcedo, Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran
Real Salt Lake's defense is short-staffed these days. There is talk of Chris Schuler's injury keeping him off the field for longer than expected, meaning RSL must rely on a small group of defenders indefinitely. That’s why it’s a good thing the back four are playing remarkable team defense, and also contributing significantly on the offensive end.
The Real Salt Lake defense should take a lot of credit for the win and advancement into the U.S. Open Cup semifinals. Both starting outside backs, Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert, fired powerful ground shots from outside the box to score. Neither defender had scored in quite some time — two years for Beltran and three years for Wingert — and both enjoyed the attention for a night.
"Unfortunately, defenders don’t always get the spotlight," Beltran said. "We do a lot of the dirty work but when you do get the goal it’s nice.”
Wingert admitted his goal wasn't exactly brilliant, but he'd take it nonetheless.
“I don’t think you can compare the two," Wingert said. "You know his was a blast and mine was clearly a deflection. Whatever we’ll take it.”
The defenders also took care of usual business by protecting the net and only allowing one shot on goal for Carolina.
Starter: Josh Saunders
Similar to the recent Seattle game, RSL's goalkeeper was hardly utilized. The difference being RSL backup keeper Josh Saunders started instead of Nick Rimando.
Due to great defense by the whole team, and a subdued RailHawks offense, Saunders had a fairly boring night. Late in the second half, Real Salt Lake let up and allowed Carolina to get a shot off, but Saunders handled it with ease. The RSL keeper also improved his feet and played several kicks accurately.