Last time Real Salt Lake played in a US Open Cup semifinal, the team looked more than a little different than it does today.
RSL has been the model of roster consistency (except when forced to change, largely) since around 2007 and 2008, when the then-unheralded arrivals of Kyle Beckerman, Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Nick Rimando, and others shaped the team.
But did you know that of the 11 players to have started the US Open Cup semifinal in 2013 against Portland Timbers, only four remain?
It's remarkable, really. When you think about RSL, you think about consistency, but this betrays that notion ever-so-slightly.
Gone are Nat Borchers, Carlos Salcedo, Chris Wingert, Ned Grabavoy, Khari Stephenson, Robbie Findley, and, most recently, Alvaro Saborio.
So, who's left likely to play tonight against Sporting Kansas City that also played in that match?
Three of the remaining players — and arguably the most well-established veterans on the team: Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, and Kyle Beckerman. Javier Morales joined them later in the match. They make up the core of Real Salt Lake — and while Morales didn't start that one (Luis Gil did, however), and Joao Plata came off the bench to good effect, it was a radically different lineup that pushed RSL through that day.
Real Salt Lake, today, will be leaning on those five aforementioned players — they're arguably the most important players on a team still clawing on the to "The Team is the Star" mantra while the rest of MLS organizes around big-name players for yet another cycle.
The players outside that core group have shifted — Sebastian Jaime has started establishing himself; Elias Vasquez has supplanted Carlos Salcedo as the young, talented center back; and Luke Mulholland has come in and played an important role. But the team retains the same feeling, and it's all down to those core players.
As we look for success from Real Salt Lake tonight, watch for those key players to make as big an impact as the match allows them. Nick Rimando will make his trademark huge saves even if we'd rather he didn't have to, Kyle Beckerman will provide the steady 'metronome'-like play that has made him one of the best at his position in the league, and Javier Morales will provide the counter to Beckerman's steady beat — a swaying, staggering rhythm that throws the opposition into disarray.
Alongside them: Those players that have become part of the core. Tony Beltran, with his build-up play and one-on-one defending out wide; Joao Plata with his sharp runs and incredible finishing.
If we see all of that, there's a good chance Real Salt Lake has been successful.