Real Salt Lake cruised past the NASL's Carolina RailHawks to reach the Semifinals for the first time in club history. Photo: Real Salt Lake
For the first time in its 2013 tournament campaign, Real Salt Lake defeated a squad without the use of extra time, and for the first time in club history, the Claret-and-Cobalt moved on to the Semifinals of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. RSL defeated the NASL leading Carolina RailHawks 3-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
With the win, RSL became the first Utah-based club to reach the Semifinals in the 100-year history of the US Open Cup.
Through the first half hour of Wednesday’s match, the MLS side couldn’t break through the RailHawks defense that kept at least 10 men behind the ball. Carolina’s goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald was equal to a Kyle Beckerman curler that seemed destined for the top corner. Finally in the 35th, defender Tony Beltran fired a shot through traffic and beat the sprawling Fitzgerald to the far post.
With Carolina fielding a weakened side, another RSL defender, Chris Wingert, surged into the attack to score from distance on a deflection in the second half, proving that the rout was on. The victory sent Major League Soccer’s hottest club to the Semifinals for the first time in the franchise’s nine-year history. It’ll host the Portland Timbers, who are also making its first appearance in the final four, on August 7.
“I’m pleased but it means nothing to be in the Semifinal,” Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis said in post-game media comments. “It means something to me to win the whole thing.”
The RailHawks, first in the NASL standings, avenged a 2012 Open Cup loss by beating MLS’s Chivas USA 3-1 in the tourney’s fourth-round to reach the Quarters. The second-division side decided to go with a makeshift lineup for the match, keeping the NASL’s goal scoring leader Brian Shriver on the bench in the first half. After 45 minutes, the RailHawks totaled zero shots.
“I was disappointed that I couldn’t put the team that I wanted to put out,” Carolina coach Colin Clarke said. “It would be our first championship and we need to get over that hurdle [in the NASL] and win that first championship.”
The RailHawks opted to save key starters, including club captain Floyd Franks and midfielder Cesar Elizondo, for Saturday’s match against the Atlanta Silverbacks, which would give the side its first NASL Spring Season title and the right to host 2013 Soccer Bowl.
“It’s often the case that coaching staffs and players need to make decisions about where you’re going to put all your eggs, and they chose Saturday so maybe that’s a good thing for us,” Kreis said.
In the beginning, it didn’t look to be RSL’s day. The Utah side’s first shot came in the 10th minute when forward Robbie Findley sprinted down the left flank, but Fitzgerald pushed the ball out for a clearance. The Claret-and-Cobalt were reduced to pouring long balls over the top only to come out fruitless until the Beltran strike.
“Saborio made a great pass and I wasn’t sure after I took the first touch if I was going to take another one, to kind of drive to the end line and cut it back,” the RSL defender said. “I heard Beckerman say hit it and I just decided to rip it and it went into the far post.”
The goal gave Beltran the confidence to go on another foray forward in the 44th minute, collecting the ball from a Ned Grabavoy pass and lofting a shot to the far post to force another diving save from the Carolina keeper.
At the break with RSL up 1-0, the crowd of 10,287 jeered the opposition for not forcing Salt Lake goalkeeper Josh Saunders into a save. In the 50th minute, RailHawks forward Brian Ackley tried to catch the former LA number one off his line, but the shot sailed just wide of the net. Off of the ensuing goal kick, sloppy play led to a turnover that found Chris Wingert just outside of the penalty box for a goal. The defender’s shot caromed off of a Carolina back, catching Fitzgerald off guard who was unable to make the save. It was Wingert’s second goal in his career.
“I would say it doesn’t have quite the same feeling as if you hit a blast, but they all count and I’ll take anything,” the unapologetic defender said.
Finally in the 61st minute, Carolina brought in the cavalry, taking off Eddie Ababio and Justin Willis in favor of Brian Shriver and Cesar Elizondo, who made an impact on the game. The duo forced a corner kick in the 68th minute, but Ackley’s header couldn’t find the frame.
“We tried to keep it tight and try to get 50 or 60 minutes without conceding and then bring on some players who could help us win the game,” Clarke said. “Cesar and Shriver changed the game with their pace and kept the ball moving.”
Still, the second-division side failed to take advantage of its men with fresh legs, allowing RSL to bring on forward Olmes Garcia and midfielder Yordany Alvarez for Javier Morales and Khari Stephenson in the 78th. Immediately Garcia was active, crossing the ball to a wide open. Joao Plata in the 80th minute whose shot flashed high over the bar.
Just five minutes later, the Columbian got the assist he deserved, when Ned Grabavoy’s pass sprung the 20-year old down the right flank. With Alvaro Saborio streaking to the near post, Garcia crossed the ball for a far post header by the Costa Rican to give Salt Lake its third goal.
“He’s a guy that thrives on confidence and momentum,” Kreis told of the striker. “Unfortunately, he’s off to Costa Rica so maybe they can enjoy his momentum.”
The loss in the Quarterfinals was Carolina’s furthest run in the tournament since its inaugural 2007 squad made it to the Semis. In the ’07 run, the RailHawks lost to another MLS side, the New England Revolution, 2-1. The second-division side continues its NASL Spring Season title quest with two games left.
With the victory, Kreis earned his 100th win across all competitions as the head man at Real Salt Lake.
“It’s not just a crest on a shirt,” the RSL legend beamed. “Obviously it feels like my home. This is where I started and this is where I got my first chance.”
The Claret-and-Cobalt continues the 2013 MLS campaign at Toronto FC Saturday. In the Cup, Salt Lake will host the Portland Timbers in the Semis when captain and former Salt Lake midfielder Will Johnson returns on August 7 to Rio Tinto Stadium. It will be the Canadian’s first game back in Utah since he was traded in 2012.
“I’m pleased with the performance overall, and tonight I thought we responded will after a pretty sluggish start. I’m happy that we’re moving on,” Kreis said.
Quarterfinals :: Carolina RailHawks 0 : 3 Real Salt Lake
June 26 – Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy UT – Attendance: 10,207; Sunny & 85 degrees
RSL: Tony Beltran (Alvaro Saborio) 35
RSL: Chris Wingert 50
RSL: Alvaro Saborio (Ned Grabavoy) 85
RSL (4-4-2): Josh Sauders (GK); Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Carlos Salcedo, Chris Wingert; Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, Khari Stephenson (Olmes Garcia 79), Javier Morales (Yordany Alvarez 79); Robbie Findley (Joao Plata 64), Alvaro Saborio. Substitutes not used: Nick Rimando (GK), Lovel Palmer, Sebastian Velasquez, Devon Sandoval
CAR (4-4-2): Akira Fitzgerald (GK); Jordan Graye, Austen King, Kevin Rutkiewicz, Kupono Low; Jonathan Greenfield (Austin da Luz 80), Nick Millington, Justin Willis (Brian Shriver 61), Eddie Ababio (Cesar Elizondo 61); Ciaran O’Brian, Brian Ackley. Substitutes not used: Tim Murray (GK), Paul Hamilton, Floyd Franks, Zack Schilawski