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US Open Cup preview: RSL vs. Sporting Kansas City

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Real Salt Lake hosts the 2017 US Open Cup champions Sporting Kansas City in their Fourth Round match-up at Rio Tinto Stadium.

MLS: Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

After playing three games in the span of eight days — and racking up nine points — Real Salt Lake finds themselves in third place in the Western Conference, but their schedule isn’t slowing down quite yet. They play their Fourth Round Lamar Hunt US Open Cup game this Wednesday as they welcome the reigning USOC Champions, and long-time rivals, Sporting Kansas City.

While this is an important tournament that RSL has always taken very seriously, it’s coming at a time when the team is full of tired legs after those three games in quick succession, which will also be followed by a trip to Carson, California to take on the LA Galaxy on Saturday. Don’t be surprised to see several Real Monarchs players take the field, as well as players on the first team who normally find themselves further down the depth chart. This will be a chance for some of the younger guys who don’t get much playing time to showcase their talents and fight their way up the ladder.

The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup has an incredibly long history, dating all the way back to 1914. While the first round started back at the beginning of May, the US-based MLS teams don’t enter the tournament until the fourth round, giving the lower-division teams a chance to make a run before hand. The USOC is also the quickest route back to the CONCACAF Champions League for MLS teams, as all it would take is five wins in a row for Real Salt Lake to be crowned the USOC Champions for the first time, as well as earn an automatic berth into Champions League.

Rivals, even in Open Cup play

The last time these two sides met outside of MLS play was in the US Open Cup semi-final in 2015, where unfortunately, Sporting Kansas City came away with a commanding 3-1 win, and then went on to win the final against the Philadelphia Union. SKC has won the USOC title four times: 2004, 2012, 2015, and 2017.

Real Salt Lake has reached the USOC final one time, back in 2013 when they hosted DC United, who happened to be in last place in MLS at the time. Unfortunately, DC came out on top with a 1-0 win and won the trophy in front of the RSL home fans, who have been waiting for another shot ever since. Of course, that was the same year that RSL lost to SKC in the MLS Cup Final after 120 minutes of play and a long penalty shootout.

Lineup expectations

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Real Salt Lake at Sacramento Republic
RSL lost on the road to USL side Sacramento Republic in the 2017 US Open Cup.
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to say who Mike Petke will actually put on the field in this game. Last year, RSL made a fourth-round exit against Sacramento Republic FC after suffering a 4-1 loss. The lineup was made mostly out of Real Monarchs players, with Ricardo Velazco scoring RSL’s lone goal.

Generally, MLS clubs are prohibited from calling up USL players in league play, except for in case of extreme hardship. The rules change in both Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League play though, allowing MLS clubs to call up players from their USL affiliates. Each player is allowed to sign four short-term loan agreements each season, with a maximum of 16 days for games in these competitions. In addition, USL players being called up for Open Cup games must be 25 years old or younger, and there can only be a maximum of five foreign players on the roster.

I’d expect Petke to fill the bench with heavy-hitting first team players, such as Rimando, Glad, Kreilach, Baird, and Acosta, while giving players further down the pecking order a chance to make the start and state their case. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Connor Sparrow in goal, Ricky Lopez-Espin in the attack, and a few Monarchs players sprinkled throughout the starting lineup. I can’t imagine it will be all younger guys, though, as it’d be smart for Petke to start some preferred first team players who might not naturally start in LA on Saturday anyway, ie: Luis Silva, David Horst, etc.

On the Kansas City side, it’s hard to predict who they’ll really put out in their starting lineup. They’ve had a rough schedule too and are suffering from tired legs especially after playing a game on Sunday, as well as plenty of injuries, but head coach Peter Vermes has been known to field a strong Starting XI in these Open Cup games in the past.

So good at home

MLS: Seattle Sounders at Real Salt Lake
RSL downed Seattle last week to win their third straight, and their 11th in the last 12 home matches.
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless, RSL has been rock solid at home, winning 11 of their last 12 matches at Rio Tinto Stadium, stretching all the way back into last season. The only loss was the 5-1 massacre from LAFC at this season’s home opener, but ever since then they’ve been nothing but dominant, outscoring their opponents 13-4 over their last six games at home.

I wouldn’t expect this to change, even if Petke does field a Monarchs-heavy lineup — and by the way, the Monarchs are currently at the top of the USL table as well, continuing their dominance of the league from last season.

If things start to go wrong, expect RSL to bring in some top-notch reinforcements off the bench to bolster the attack and/or defense, whichever one might be suffering at the time. Either way, it’ll be another exciting chapter in the Real Salt Lake/Sporting Kansas City rivalry.


Absences

Real Salt Lake
OUT: Tony Beltran (knee), Jordan Allen (knee), Alex Horwath (achilles surgery), Shawn Barry (knee), Demar Phillips (ankle), Luke Mulholland (back), Albert Rusnak (int’l duty)
QUESTIONABLE: Joao Plata (quad)

Sporting Kansas City
OUT: Felipe Gutierrez (sports hernia)
QUESTIONABLE: Seth Sinovic (lower body injury), Khiry Shelton (thigh), Brad Evans (thigh), Jimmy Medranda (bone bruise), Yohan Croizet (lower body injury)

Lineup predictions

RSL: Sparrow; Henley, Horst, Besler, Herrera; Ruiz, Beckerman; Saucedo, Hernandez, Lopez-Espin; L Silva

SKC: Melia; Zusi, Amor, Besler, Lobato; Ilie; Kuzain, Busio; Gerso, Rubio, Belmar

Match info

When: Wednesday, June 6, 8:00PM MT

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT

Weather: 84 degrees, clear

Broadcast: KMYU, KSLTV app (streaming), KSL.com (streaming), ESPN700 (radio)