Not many teams come to Utah and grab results. Real Salt Lake holds a home record of 113-27-44 overall at their world-class facility, Rio Tinto Stadium, since opening the facility in October 2008.
Sporting Kansas City last eliminated Real Salt Lake in Lamar Hunt US Open Cup play in the semifinals in 2015. Sporting Kansas City again eliminated Real Salt Lake in 2018 with a 2-0 victory Wednesday, with goals coming from Johnny Russell in the 48th minute and Kharlton Belmar in the 74th minute.
Belmar assisted Russell for the first goal, and Russell assisted Belmar for the second goal.
Sporting Kansas City is arguably the hottest team in MLS. It has the third most goals at 28, first place for shots on goal with 89, and currently sits atop the Western Conference of MLS with 28 points out of 14 games. SKC is also the reigning and defending champions of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup after beating New York Red Bulls last year 2-1.
Both team coaches’ Peter Vermes and Mike Petke had interviews this week with their local media talking about how this game was set during a very busy time for them. Their normal starters have all played a lot of minutes and that some other guys were going to get an opportunity to step in and show everyone what they could do.
“We came in trying to win the game. At the same time this is a very congested part of the schedule, just like it was for Salt Lake,” said SKC’s Matt Besler. “So we knew that we were going to have to make some changes with the game that we had on Sunday and another big game that we have in Portland on Saturday. So we knew that right away. Fortunately we had a few days to prepare for this game and we gave a number of guys their first opportunities tonight and I think all and all it was a good team performance by us.”
Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City both are really known for their academy programs and producing top talent. With both teams needing to rest some guys there was an opportunity for some young guys to get some minutes. Real Salt Lake started Andrew Brody, Jose Hernandez, and Aaron Herrera, all products of their academy program. While Sporting Kansas City started Gianluca Busio and Jaylin Lindsey. I really enjoyed watching Gianluca play. He just turned 16 years old on May 28th. He is barely 16 years old.
Here is what Matt Besler had to say about Busio’s performance: “I thought he grew into the game very well. It says a lot about him, he just turned 16 years old, the way that he played, the way that he was able to battle and play for 90 minutes. I think that he got stronger as the game went on. He was able to find those pockets of space for us, and we were able to break the lines and play into him, and he had the poise to find those pockets and find the ball and make the right decisions. It was a very good game for him.”
Here is what Gianluca Busio had to say about his play and his preparation for this game:
“I first found out maybe a couple of days before in training. I was a little nervous at first but after a couple days of practice I felt a little bit more confident going into the game. I was surrounded by other guys that were getting their first starts so that made it easier that they had some of the same nerves as me, but that just helped me. They were all encouraging, and we also got some veterans in there also. So that helped me a lot, making me get into the game. I thought I prepared pretty well with the team and got into it.” When asked if coach Vermes had given any special instructions prior to the game Busio said: “He just told me to go out there and be confident. He brought me aside and said you deserve it, go out there and be confident and play your game. He knows I can play.”
Both teams exchanged opportunities in the first half, but for the most part both teams were being pretty conservative in the opening half. Jose Hernandez got through on a breakaway in the 18th minute for Real Salt Lake from a pass from Ricardo Lopez-Espin, but Hernandez pulled his shot wide. Gianluca started to really grow into the game around the 34th minute where he started to thread some through balls down the right side. Sporting KC’s best opportunity in the first half was on a counter attack down the right side that found Russell running to the top of the 18 yard box. Russell was able to skip by his first defender with a great little lifted touch past the sliding defender, but RSL goalkeeper Sparrow came up big with the save.
The second half seemed to have a whole different pace to it. Sporting Kansas City was pressing higher up the field and really going at RSL right after kick off. Kharlton Belmar made a diagonal run down the right hand side behind the defense and got the ball near the endline. He was able to cut it back to the onrushing Johnny Russell for the go ahead goal in the 48th minute.
Here is what Russell had to say about his goal and assist: “It was a good team move. Belmar made a good run to get in behind and I knew that was the only ball he had really, was the cut back. It was a great ball from him. I managed to get in front of the defender and tuck one away which is nice, especially after the opportunity in the first half that I should have scored. The second one just opened up. The coaches were telling me to get the ball and turn. It was a great ball from Amor. I could see that it opened up. I saw Belmar’s run and I tried to play it across and he got a touch on it.”
Belmar scored his goal in the 74th minute and Real Salt Lake subbed in another academy product Brooks Lennon and also Alfredo Ortuno Martinez but was never really able to produce anything. Sporting Kansas City went on to win and advances to the 5th round in chase of defending last year’s Open Cup Title.