Only three matches stand between Real Salt Lake and the US Open Cup final — but it would take only a win tonight for RSL to best their strongest-ever Open Cup campaign. It's an indictment of how the club has fared thus far, but a win tonight would be well on the road to setting that right.
Last round saw RSL defeat second-tier NASL opponents Atlanta Silverbacks 3-2 in an exciting overtime match; this round, RSL again faces lower-league opponents — this time, third-tier USL Pro's Charleston Battery are the opposition.
Real Salt Lake will be without a few familiar faces: Alvaro Saborio, Nick Rimando, Luis Gil and Abdoulie Mansally are all gone on international duty, while Chris Schuler, Rich Balchan, and John Stertzer are all absent through injury. This does leave the squad a little thin, but there's little reason to be afraid.
Josh Saunders was always likely to step in for Rimando tonight, and a central defensive pairing of Carlos Salcedo and Kwame Watson-Siriboe was always likely. On the flanks, Lovel Palmer could step in for one of Chris Wingert or Tony Beltran (certainly not both — that would be a disaster).
In the midfield, Kyle Beckerman may have a chance to become RSL's historical leading Open Cup scorer — he's scored three, as many as leader Andy Williams, but the current head of scouting at the club has an assist as well, knocking him slightly ahead in considerations.
As we saw in the last Open Cup match, pushing Beckerman higher in the midfield and adding Yordany Alvarez in to get some minutes might be in order; tactically, it seemed effective if a little forced. It provides less attacking balance, though, and that might be important.
As such, Ned Grabavoy and Sebastian Velasquez seem a natural pick to play in the midfield, while Khari Stephenson could offer an argument as well after a good performance on the weekend. Ahead of the two somewhat-wide midfielders will likely be Javier Morales, who has displayed real, unmistakable quality as RSL's playmaker this season — a season in which many were predicting a sharp decline for the Argentine.
Up front, the match could be an opportunity to see Devon Sandoval starting again, and given he scored in the last Open Cup match, it might not be a bad idea. Giving Robbie Findley or Joao Plata a chance to make an impact from the bench could suit this match well.
No matter who plays, Jason Kreis will be looking for a resolute performance — one that doesn't see the side scoring an early goal and dropping off, nor one that sees early struggles to score ending in tragedy or, worse, overtime.