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Midweek Mailbag (USOC edition): Defenders, Javi, motivation and more

In this, our first edition of the Mailbag, readers ask about the US Open Cup — inevitably, right?

You look like you have something to say, Jason. Do you?
You look like you have something to say, Jason. Do you?

Ryan Oaks (@ryanoaks) asks: How much do the results of the last three matches play into tonight's match? Different competition, different story?

They certainly play into something, but I'm hopeful that our approach remains assertive and confident regardless. I struggle sometimes with the thought that different competitions produce performances greatly different than "form" or what have you, but surely the motivation factor is different. This match will have been on our mind for some time now, and especially since that coin flip that won us the home match. The long and the short of it, though, comes to simply an "I don't know" from me - but like I said, I'm hopeful and confident.

Zac McIllece (@ZacAtaq) asks: How would the absence of Javi affect our game plan? Gil playing a similar role hasn't worked to same effect.

Jason Kreis had something to say about Javier Morales playing today, so let's go over that first: "Javi trained fully today ... we believe he came off at the right time not to injure himself further ... there's still conversation to be had ... he's still not 100% ... but he's getting better every single day ..." (The ellipses are mine. Jason Kreis is not so profligate when he speaks - that's just my quick and hopefully accurate transcription.)

From my perspective, his absence wouldn't be damning, but it would certainly hurt us. I'd say, though, that Gil has only played about 70 minutes in that position since April or thereabouts. Coming in partway into what was a difficult match to manage, Gil didn't have much chance to do well, and I thought he might have had too defensive a look to him. That said, if he's needed, I think he can and will do better than that.

But let's be unequivocal about it: Javier Morales is vital to our side.

Randal Serr (@randalserr), who you'll recognize as our player ratings specialist, asks: Over the past few years RSL hasn't taken Open Cup very seriously. What makes this year different? Is it truly important now or is it a lack of being in CCL? Also, fans have historically not prioritized Open Cup. Has the perception changed or is this just an anomaly due to having home field advantage, no CCL, etc.?

During an interview, Will Johnson - of all people - talked about how important the Open Cup was for Real Salt Lake when he was around. Jason Kreis has said similar things. I can't really explain our performances against lower league opposition, but it happens all over the league. I would bet those teams care, too. I'm not sure what it is that causes all that, but maybe it's as simple as relaxing or just underestimating the opponent.

It's an incredibly important competition for us, but you're right: fans don't always recognize that. I do think the perception is genuinely changing, though - but had we crashed out in our first round of play, it's hard to see that change happening. For me, the change in fan perception was just that there was finally a chance for people to realize the importance. No CCL certainly changes things, but this fan base is growing and evolving every day.

Joe Shannon (@JiggaJazzman) asks: How do you qualify for the #USOC & which leagues are invited?

American MLS clubs automatically qualify, and they enter in the third round of the cup. A corollary to that is in England's FA Cup, English Premier League clubs enter in the third round. In the second round, the NASL clubs entered (including Carolina Railhawks, who we beat 3-0, and Atlanta Silverbacks, who we beat 3-2), as well as a chunk of the USL Pro clubs (including Charleston Battery, who we beat 5-2 after extra time). The remaining USL Pro clubs entered in the first round, as did USL Premier Development League clubs, most National Premier Soccer League clubs, and United States Adult Soccer Association clubs. All NPSL and USASA clubs had to qualify, but some opted out of entering in the first place.

For more, read up on qualification and the 2013 US Open Cup campaign.

Jerrad Pullum (@jpullum31) asks: Who do you think is the best option to pair with Nat Borchers at centerback tonight? McDonald? Maund? Is Salcedo available?

From what I understand, Carlos Salcedo will be available, but I'm not 100 percent on that. Maund should be available. McDonald is unavailable, which is addressed in the question that follows this one. With that out of the way, I'd venture that Salcedo is our best option. I'd be interested to see how McDonald fares in the next few weeks, should he play, but Salcedo has proven himself to lack the dangerous tentative qualities that can really hurt us. He might get caught out occasionally, but he'll learn from the mistakes he's already made. He's young, but he's ready. I hope.

Ron Kendall (Facebook) asks: Why is Mike Magee able to play for the Chicago Fire when he was traded after Open Cup play started. Brandon McDonald can't for us because he was with D.C. United during the Open Cup. Not the same thing?

Brandon McDonald played 28 minutes for D.C. United in Open Cup play against Philadelphia Union, so he's ineligible. During the one match the Galaxy played before crashing out against Carolina Railhawks (bless their soul), Magee didn't play. So that's the reason - you've got to play to be cup-tied.

Nussdorfer AC (@NussdorferAC) asks: How does Kreis manage Beckerman's minutes, considering 225 minutes in the last ten days, Alvarez's suspension and busy schedule?

First things first, the busy schedule looking forward isn't in his mind at all. I'm sure of it. Kyle Beckerman is needed now, and this match is more important than any match in the near future. Alvarez's suspension is unfortunate and hurts the team, but we have options at that spot if we need them. Less preferable options, certainly, but options. So maybe we miss him Saturday, maybe he rests a bit - maybe he just sits a little deeper and plays a less strenuous match. But one thing's certain: He's playing tonight.

Matt Shifley (Facebook) ends us with something not related to the match but important regardless: Any news about Jason Kreis' contract? Is this something management will take care of in the offseason?

I don't have anything definitive on this. I wish I did. I so sorely wish I did. I'll look into it in the near future, but I hope we take care of it before the offseason. Jason is, at this point, the lifeblood of our team on the field.

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Tentatively, Midweek Mailbag will run Wednesdays. Submit your questions via Twitter (to either @rslsoapbox or @TheCrossbarRSL), or in the comments section on this post, or via email at