SANDY — More often than not, Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup matches are unique for Major League Soccer teams.
Indeed that was the case for Real Salt Lake on Tuesday night in a 3-0 loss to LAFC at Rio Tinto Stadium, as head coach Mike Petke wasn’t even on the sideline (he is in Minnesota attending a pre-scheduled coaching course) and multiple regular starters were out.
The question, then, becomes what, if anything, can the team take away from it?
Assistant coach Freddy Juarez, who filled in for Petke, observed afterward that, “I can sit here and tell you negatives,” but he opted to focus on the fact that youngsters Tate Schmitt, Erik Holt and Andrew Brody were in the starting lineup and performed well against the MLS-best LAFC, and another, Julian Vazquez, subbed on late.
“You can’t get that experience at training,” Juarez said. “You’ve got to let them feel the speed and the strength and the competition...that’s hard to replicate anywhere else.”
If there’s a question about whether or not the experience for the youngsters of getting beaten convincingly on a big stage will be a good or bad thing moving forward, Juarez feels it’s pretty firmly the former.
“They had the down tonight. It’s a valuable, valuable experience, but I don’t think those guys will shy away,” he said. “They’re fighters, they’re warriors. This is great for them. I know they’re going to be disappointed. I know they’re going to be upset. They’re used to winning.”
On the downside, amid the persistent question during the Open Cup about how motivated MLS teams are during it, both Juarez and players insisted Tuesday’s contest was one they were eager to claim.
“It’s one of those one-off games where you have to bring your best because there’s a championship on the line,” Schmitt said. “We wanted to come in and win it.”
Added Juarez: “Obviously it wasn’t a great game or we’d be talking about something different, but it was something that we took very serious.”
Despite that, RSL dropped its third straight game overall, and has been outscored 9-1 during that stretch. It continued a strange season-long trend that hasn’t seen RSL win or lose just one game only to have a different outcome in the next. The club has been streaky the entire campaign.
“We were looking for a response tonight,” said veteran Luke Mulholland. “Obviously we weren’t happy with the result, so we need to nitpick again at what went wrong and what we can improve on. We’ve got to take it on the chin and move forward in a positive direction.”
Mulholland then didn’t mince words in assessing his team’s recent play.
“Teams shouldn’t be beating us three or four to zero, if I’m being honest,” he said. “We’re a quality side. We’ve got to have that belief that we can step on the field and we can go toe-to-toe.”Comment on this story
Now eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup (LAFC will play in the next round next week), RSL will continue its long break before returning to action June 22 on the road against the Chicago Fire.
That contest will be RSL’s 16th of 34 regular-season contests, and one in which things should be more normal than they were Tuesday. The club is currently holding on to the seventh and last playoff spot in the Western Conference. It is seventh in the conference in goals allowed but 10th in goals scored (excluding Tuesday’s match since it was not a league game).
“I think there was more positives,” Juarez said of Tuesday, “and now it gives a valuable game leading into Chicago.”