Sometimes all it takes is one defensive lapse to send a seemingly superior side home in the US Open Cup. To be fair, Seattle’s 4-1 penalty shootout win at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, was also buoyed by numerous acrobatic saves from young Sounders goalkeeper Tyler Miller, including two in the shootout, and one or two or twenty missed offensive chances by a Real Salt Lake side that held all of its regulars out of the league match against Dallas at the weekend.
But it was Nelson Valdez’s 51st minute goal off a defensive breakdown that gave Seattle life in a match that the home side controlled through and through. And it was substitute midfielder Erik Friberg’s penalty that proved decisive in the shootout.
Seattle, themselves playing a half-and-half lineup of regular starters and prospects, threatened early, with Oalex Anderson firing a 2nd-minute cross off Justen Glad and the post for a corner kick. Nothing much, however, came of the corner.
It typically takes about fifteen minutes for a superior team to impose themselves on a soccer game. Here it only took RSL about ten before the ball started to just stay in the Seattle half.
It was in the 18th minute when RSL should have turned that superiority into a lead. Burrito Martinez played an excellent through ball between Seattle defenders, leaving Yura Movsisyan one-on-one with Miller. However, Miller came out, made himself big, and forced Movsisyan to shoot right into him. Two minutes later, Joao Plata ran in behind down the left flank and sent a cross that missed Movsisyan’s head by millimeters.
In the 24th minute, Luke Mulholland set up just outside the box. Bypassing several passing options, he decided to test the goalkeeper. It wasn’t a terrible decision, as Miller had to leap to snag the effort that was heading into the top corner, but Movsisyan felt he had an open path to the goal had he been played and he was probably right.
Still, RSL’s combination play was consistently too much for Seattle in the first half. It all finally paid off as Movsisyan again broke free in the box off a sublime flicked ball from Burrito Martinez, who had been splaying balls all half. This time, Movsisyan was clipped down by Tony Alfaro, and the referee pointed to the spot with no hesitation. Despite Gomez’s vociferous protests, which earned him a yellow card, Plata calmly slotted home the penalty to give RSL the 43rd minute lead, which they took into the half.
RSL came out just as fast in the second half as they finished the first half, as Movsisyan again got behind the Seattle backline. This time it took a fully-stretched leaping save from Miller to keep the game within one goal in the 46th minute.
Seattle got back into the game after a shocking defensive display from Jeff Attinella, who had seen precious little action thus far, and Glad. A long bouncing ball dropped between Valdez and Attinella. Attinella took an awkward path toward the ball, letting it go behind him. Glad in trying to clean it up stumbled over the ball himself, leaving the ball and the net open for Valdez to stab home the 51st minute equalizer.
RSL responded well to the setback, finding an open Movsisyan twice in two minutes. In the 54th, Beltran rushed down to the end line and played it into Movsisyan at the top of the six, but the chance went begging. A minute later, Demar Phillips played an extremely dangerous cross across the face of goal that missed Movsisyan by an inch.
Starting to create a little on their own, Seattle forged forward a little more. Indeed, Oalex Anderson nearly gave Seattle a shock lead in the 57th minute when his shot deflected off Glad, seeming to leave Attinella wrong-footed. Attinella put a hand out at the last instant for what has to be considered the save of the game.
A 70th minute Seattle forward foray, led by Anderson, would cost the Sounders an odd-man rush on the other end of the field as Plata, Morales, and Movsisyan charged at the Seattle centerbacks. But Plata held the ball a little too long in the box and the resulting Martinez shot was comfortable for Miller.
Anderson again created something from nothing in the 76th minute, when his one-on-four effort was stoppered by Kyle Beckerman and Morales. The referee found something wrong with that challenge, granting the Sounders a free kick at the edge of the box. Alas, Gomez’s effort sailed harmlessly over the bar.
RSL continued to press on the other end, as Zach Scott made an important block on a Morales shot. Morales’s ensuing corner was impressive, nearly equaled by Maund’s header, which drifted a few inches wide.
Three minutes later, Maund found another free header in the 84th minute off the foot of Morales, this time on a free kick. The result was the same, though, as another Maund effort went wide.
Maund’s efforts were appreciated in the 87th minute, though, when a bouncing ball off a long throw proved menacing inside the RSL box. It fell to Jordan Morris, who had replaced Anderson in the 79th, right in front of goal, but Maund threw himself at the ball, deflecting it out for a corner. Morris continued the danger, heading a ball that looped over Attinella but not over Phillips, who headed it off the line.
Martinez fired the final chance of regulation and it was a dandy, a screamer that Miller reacted splendidly to, tipping it over the bar to send the game to extra time.
Extra time commenced with more physicality than possession. A 93rd minute fracas among Erik Friberg, Demar Phillips, and Herculez Gomez resulted in a yellow card for Javi Morales, which happens sometimes in the Open Cup.
RSL substitute Jordan Allen should have taken the lead in the 99th minute when a corner fell to him while the Seattle defenders ahead of him fell down. But Allen could only muster a meager effort that bounced right to Miller.
Maund got unlucky with a 3rd header, this time in the 112th minute, that beat everyone but Alfaro, who headed it off the goal line. A minute later, Martinez got on the end of an Allen cross but his one-timed volley nearly left the stadium.
It became clear at the outset of the final 15 minutes of extra time that the Sounders were playing for penalties. Aside from a few one-man Joevin Jones counters, the Sounders weren’t much interested in attacking. It was RSL continuing to press forward, and Movsisyan and Plata again nearly found a winner for RSL in the 114th minute, when Movsisyan held up the ball at the six-yard box to lay off for Plata, but the shot was fired into the defenders.
The urgency continued but the excellent scoring opportunities did not, and despite a bevy of chances for the home team, the teams remained level after 120 minutes.
It was supposed to be Attinella’s tournament, with penalty guru Nick Rimando left on the bench, but it was Miller who stole the spotlight. Gomez and Martinez left the spot kick competition level after one round, but after Morris’s perfect 2nd-round penalty, Plata had his saved.
It was the same story in the 3rd round, where US Open Cup veteran Zach Scott buried his attempt before Kyle Beckerman’s shot down the middle was kicked away by Miller. That left it up to Friberg to bury the home team, and he made no mistake.
It was only Miller’s second start for the Sounders, but what a start it was, with at least three spectacular saves in regulation leading to two match-winning penalty saves. On his back, the Sounders will head to the quarterfinals to play the winner of Wednesday’s match between the Portland Timbers and the LA Galaxy.
FULL MATCH REPLAY
Seattle Sounders FC
Real Salt Lake
52' · Valdez
43' · Plata (PK)
REF: AR: AR: 4th:
Seattle Sounders FC
Real Salt Lake
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