Since that magical 2009 MLS Cup victory in Seattle, titles have eluded Real Salt Lake like disease-ridden mosquitoes out in the West Desert have avoided old friends from high school who work in the abatement industry. RSL may have struck first blood winning that first MLS title but it has not been pleasant since.
The last time Real Salt Lake had a chance to win a title was also at home, in the CONCACAF Champions League final against Monterrey (Mexico). Everyone knows how that game turned out because RSL were not the victors.
This time, in front of what is likely to be a sold-out, raucous and hungry crowd of mosquito-weary RSL fans the club can finally put to rest the argument that 2009 is as good as it’s gonna get — and win a major title Tuesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium vs D.C. United (7 p.m., no TV)
The U.S. Open Cup represents the clearest path back to CONCACAF Champions League for RSL. It’s one win and they’re in, so to speak, without any of the hurdles such as the one that Real Salt Lake is facing right now concerning the Supporters Shield race (Shield is given to team with top overall record in Major League Soccer), or getting through a tough playoff grind to win the 2013 MLS Cup (also a route to the CCL)
Here are five ways RSL can win the U.S. Open Cup tomorrow night and avoid other more treacherous routes:
There is no question that Real Salt Lake has a decided home-field advantage at Rio Tinto.
The club has lost just three games in Major League Soccer regular season play this season at the Riot and none in Open Cup play.
Former Chivas USA coach Chelis, a quote machine if there ever was one, summed it up best when he told MLSSoccer.com: “When my grandchildren misbehave, I will tell them I will send them to Utah.” Enough said on that score.
He also said of playing here: “I have never seen a whole stadium singing one song when their team scored. I wanted them to score another one.”
This was after his team lost to RSL at Rio Tinto, of course. It’s doubtful D.C. will feel the same way, but you never know.
The reason behind RSL’s resurgence is because of the youth movement that has taken place in part to shrewd offseason moves to land Colombian striker Olmes Garcia and to place faith in both its reserve league team and academy system.
Garcia has been a godsend for RSL — and has literally allowed fans to forget about petulant striker Fabian Espindola — who was offloaded to the New York Red Bulls in the offseason.
Garcia has five goals in MLS play — to go with four assists — and most of them have been highlight reels.
RSL’s so-called reserve players have also stepped up — case in point is striker/draft pick Devon Sandoval (pictured) who has three goals of his own — in addition to guys like Carlos Salcedo who are straight from RSL’s academy system.
Though most of these guys played Saturday in RSL’s 1-0 win over Vancouver and may not be available vs D.C., Sandoval summed up the result like this: “Yes, this was our second team if you want to call it that, but we’re dangerous still.”
That they are, and seven of them will be waiting anxiously on the bench to show their stuff if the veterans slip up on Tuesday.
No Red Cards
It’s nice when you can put a team on the field where you don’t have to think to yourself, “Gee, if only we wouldn’t have gotten that stupid card.”
Last year, all RSL did was have its best players get red cards — usually for no good reason. Espindola, Will Johnson and Jamison Olave are all gone now — but in 2012 each was thrown out of one game.
Add Kyle Beckerman to that nasty stew and you have four players who may have cost RSL last year because of their behavior.
This year, even Beckerman got it right; even he doesn’t have a red card — and that’s saying something considering he usually hasn’t. And his play on the U.S. national team has been fantastic. But you can bet that United will do everything it can do to rile him — and the rest of the RSL crew — up.
It also might be wise to sit midfielder Yordany Alvarez in this one; the Cuban has two reds this season and the Open Cup final would not be the best time to be a man down.
Otherwise, RSL has played relatively good, clean soccer and it shows based on the number of fouls the team has committed this season.
RSL may have slated Chris Schuler to be its starting center back replacing Olave but he’s only seen action in 13 games due to injury.
Despite having a patchwork lineup most of the year the team has found a capable replacement in Carlos Salcedo who mans the RSL middle alongside Nat Borchers.
Out wide Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran (pictured) are doing their usual yeoman’s job of marking opposing wings — even though both have missed a number of games as well.
And goalkeeper Nick Rimando has allowed the fewest goals since 2010 and had the fewest losses, also which he achieved during that amazing 2010 season. He also has received multiple callups to the U.S. national team and played amazing in the Gold Cup, which the Americans won handily.
Also, the most goals the RSL defense has allowed in any game this past month is two, meaning that the team is putting in effort on both ends of the field, which is what coach Jason Kreis harps on.
It is extremely unlikely, if not impossible, to expect that D.C. United will have many opportunities to score. But they will certainly try.
It’s a fact that less possession equals more wins of late for Real Salt Lake. Naysayers — or Barcelona fans — will point to possession being the end-all, be-all cure.
It’s not, and the reason is simple: the ball is held in the midfield too long, and most teams will bunker; that is, they’ll drop all but one or two of their players behind the ball in an attempt to disrupt the flow, and at some point it usually succeeds.
Sure, it’s pretty to watch the ball move back and forth between players on your own team — but it doesn’t get the ball to the forwards any faster.
Case in point: RSL possessed the ball for 53 percent of the game at Vancouver, and won, compared to RSL holding the ball for a whopping 69 percent of the match at home to San Jose, and losing.
In fact, the game in which RSL lost to the Quakes — it didn’t score a single goal.
So with D.C. likely to drop all numbers back to defend its own goal on Tuesday RSL will have to play extremely aggressive — just like it did on Saturday in Vancouver, winning as it did for the first time ever at B.C. Place.
And RSL looks to also do something it’s never done on Tuesday night, and that’s win the Open Cup.