Bad things can happen when you let a lesser opponent stick around. Real Salt Lake learned that lesson the hard way in their opening match in US Open Cup knockout against the visiting Atlanta Silverbacks at Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday night. As a result, the Major League Soccer club needed extra time to put away their USL opponents and avoid another early departure from the annual tournament. In the end they came away with a 3-2 victory with goals from Beckerman, Sandoval and Stephenson.
Real Salt Lake controlled the first half, with the bulk of possession and the bulk of the chances. One of those chances paid off early on as Captain Kyle Beckerman made a near post run on a corner kick. Teammate Javier Morales delivered the ball catching Beckerman in stride and his near post header easily beat the keeper who appeared flat footed on the play.
From that point on it seemed as if RSL was toying with its opponent. Often passing the ball along their own end of the field daring their opponent to come out and stretch out their shape in the process. However, to the credit of the Silverbacks they didn’t take the bait and kept their form reasonably well.
That left RSL to try to exploit its opponent in other ways. Most common in the opening half, was forward Robbie Findley finding himself isolated on the right channel against defender Alberto Navarro. Findley often got the best of Navarro, but failed to put in the final dagger. Perhaps the best chance came in the 26th minute. Morales delivered a ball to Findley out wide. Findley beat the defender, and returned the pass to Morales in the center of the penalty area. However, Morales appeared to be caught between a shot and a pass, and his attempt curls wide of the net.
Despite the chances, Atlanta went to the half down just a goal and the underdogs had to feel good about that result despite being dominated on the field in the opening half.
The Silverbacks would get their first shot on goal less than two minutes into the second stanza. That came courtesy of a long range blast from Richard Menjivar, but keeper Josh Saunders was never really bothered by it.
However, as the second half went on Atlanta gained confidence and the home side seemed to lose its sharpness. On a number of occasions the Silverbacks found themselves in the RSL end with numbers forward. Time after time the put hopeful balls in, but they kept failing to find their mark.
Real Salt Lake seemed to capture some renewed energy after Joao Plata and Ned Grabavoy entered the match for Findley and Sebastian Velasquez. The boost nearly reached an amusing conclusion in the 81st minute. Morales delivered a free kick into the box that was misjudged by the keeper. It fell to the feet of Kwame Watson-Siriboe who was facing away from goal. Realizing that the keeper was prone on the grass and the goal exposed, Kwame attempted a back heel, but it was deflected out of bounds.
In the 87th minute, however, Atlanta caught RSL on a counterattack. Ruben Luna gathered the ball on the right side moving toward the penalty area. Watson-Siriboe was the lone defender back and came to cut off the angle, but Luna spotted Kellen Gulley streaking down the middle and served a square ball. Gulley’s shot was partially blocked by Saunders who had come off his line, but the momentum of the play carried the ball into the net to level the match at 1-1.
In the 97th minute RSL showed their premium talent, regaining the lead 2-1. Morales quarterbacked the play with a nice leading pass to Plata streaking into space on the left. Plata served in a low cross in front of the goal mouth and Devon Sandoval used a deft touch to deflect the ball into the net.
In the 100th minute, Khari Stephenson would put the icing on the cake as he gathered a ball at the top of the area and took a blast the likes of which the Jamaican is known for. The shot found the upper corner of the net, and Nasco had no chance on the play.
After that Atlanta lost its mojo. They seemed to offer very little in the second of two 15-minute overtime sessions, but did put away a second goal off a blast by Pablo Cruz just before the final whistle.
The final period of play would feature Ned Grabavoy playing right back as Palmer injured his hamstring. As a result Sandoval dropped to the midfield, and Palmer went up top. He appeared to assist on a goal to Plata in the 123rd minute, but Plata was ruled offside on the play, and the scoreline would end with RSL coming out with a 3-1 victory advancing to the next round. That match will be played against Charleston at Rio Tinto on June 12th.