SANDY — Real Salt Lake’s stay in the U.S. Open Cup was another brief one.
Featuring a reserve-heavy starting lineup, RSL conceded twice in the second half Wednesday night to defending champion Kansas City — which also started numerous reserves — as it fell 2-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium to bow out of the Open Cup.
It’s the second-straight year RSL was eliminated in the fourth round, the round MLS teams enter the competition.
“Totally discouraging. I’m a very competitive person, so is every player that played tonight … we want to win always,” said coach Mike Petke. “Maybe discouraging is a tough word, but upset from a competitive standpoint, absolutely. But to me now the focus is on L.A.”
Kansas City has won three of the past six U.S. Open Cups as it consistently finds ways to grind out results regardless of who’s on the field.
For RSL, that continuity wasn’t there as its six-game winning streak at home in overall competitions came to a close. It will get a chance to regroup quickly with a game at the L.A. Galaxy as it looks to build on its three-game winning streak.
That winning streak came over an eight-day stretch last week, was a big reason Petke elected to rest his regulars and start mostly reserves in the midweek Open Cup match.
Luis Silva was the only regular to get the starting nod, with six of RSL’s starters making their first start of the season for RSL. Even Silva hasn’t been a regular the past month as rookie Corey Baird has forced his way onto the field.
Kansas City started a couple more regulars than RSL, but collectively it was a very slow-paced first half on both sides of the ball.
RSL’s best opportunity of the first half came in the 18th minute as Jose Hernandez put a breakaway against Adrian Zendejas well wide.
Kansas City’s best chance came shortly before halftime. Following a giveaway by RSL defender Aaron Herrera, Kansas City transitioned quickly and it led to a 1v1 chance for leading scorer Johnny Russell against RSL keeper Connor Sparrow.
Russell drilled the ball straight at Sparrow, who stayed big to make the save to keep the game level at halftime.
“I felt comfortable after the first 45, we got back into a good shape, denied a lot from them,” said Petke.
Russell wasted no time redeeming himself just two minutes into the second half on a great build-up out of the back, and a collective failure by RSL not to prevent it.
It started with Kansas City center back Emiliano Amor making a penetrating 40 yard run through the midfield, followed by a through ball in behind RSL’s backline. Kharlton Belmar tracked it down at the end line and cut a cross back toward the 6-yard box. Russell beat RSL’s defenders to the spot and powerfully headed it past Sparrow for the 1-0 lead.
“Someone’s got to step up and make a tackle or make him make a decision a little quicker, we should never allow a center back to make that big of a run without engaging,” said Nick Besler.
Petke said that type of run by a center back is usually a great opportunity to force an opponent into a mistake, but nobody closed Amor down to make it happen.
In the 74th minute, Kansas City effectively put the game out of reach as Russell ran behind RSL’s backline and played a cross right in front of goal. Belmar and Adam Henley both lunged for the ball, with it eventually hitting Henley in the back and trickling into the goal.
It was an unusually quiet night at Rio Tinto Stadium, with little energy coming from the field or the crowd.Comment on this story
A section of supporters in the South end made their presence known in the 78th minute though when big offseason signing Alfredo Ortuno made a rare substitution appearance. The section of fans immediately began chanting “Earn your paycheck!” when Ortuno came on for Luis Silva.
It was Ortuno’s first appearance since April 11 when he played the final 17 minutes in a 4-0 loss at New York City FC. Since then, he has completely fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. It’s a coincidence with Baird’s emergence as he’s scored four goals this season.