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How RSL can prepare for tonight’s US Open Cup match against Wilmington Hammerheads

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake faces Wilmington Hammerheads tonight in a match that won't be televised — or streamed, apparently but it will be streamed. (Thanks, Nic, for the tip.)

While that’s a shame in and of itself, there’s no reason we shouldn’t talk about the match and what the team has to move forward in the US Open Cup. Without too much further ado, let’s talk about the game.

Is the focus right?

Matches against lower league opposition are tricky. You're facing a team you know very little about, and they’re often particularly motivated on the “big stage.” Couple that with a tendency to underestimate opposition, and you’re in a tricky spot.

How do you best mitigate that? It’s all about having the right approach and focus from the outset of a match. Of course, it’s easier said than done, and it also comes down to lineup decisions — are the players involved properly motivated by slightly lower-opponents? Will they rise to the occasion for a knockout match?

Don't underestimate the opponent

Wilmington Hammerheads aren’t exactly world-beaters — they’re sitting at 4-4-4 in third-division USL — but it would be foolish to look at them as anything less than a viable opponent for Real Salt Lake.

History is littered with upsets — political, cultural, and, of course, sports-ical. (That’s not a word, huh?) If you’d like a popular example, Leicester City is staring you in the face. If you’d like a less popular one, Real Salt Lake vs. Atlanta Silverbacks in 2014 (remember Poku? I didn’t, even though he scored. Shame on me.) can serve you well.

The point is just that there are ways to beat Wilmington Hammerheads tonight. None of them start by not taking them seriously.

Score an early goal

Alright, this one seems particularly obvious, but it really does bear repeating: If you score an early goal, you control the match. Against an opponent that will probably try to settle in and defend without much variation, getting in front of the game will make a world of difference.

Of course, if we can’t get that, it wouldn’t hurt to have an excellent goalscorer on the bench — hint, hint.

Other things to watch

Who’s in the lineup?

Jake Simons wrote about this earlier, and you should check it out. We don’t know yet, but Jake’s got some ideas.

Remember Luke Mulholland?

I hope so — but you may not readily remember him from 2011, when he looked a bit younger and wider-eyed. Matt Gaschk wrote about him over at RSL.com.