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Match preview: RSL begins U.S. Open Cup play by hosting LAFC

Real Salt Lake will host Bob Bradley and LAFC in the fourth round of the US Open Cup, kicking off their 2019 tournament campaign while missing a slew of key players.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Los Angeles FC Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

In the midst of a three-week break for international play, Real Salt Lake gets to face off against an MLS side in US Open Cup play as they host the league’s top team Los Angeles FC.

All MLS teams enter the Open Cup in the fourth round which starts tonight, and RSL is one of a few clubs who will face off against other MLS sides, while most MLS teams begin their journey against lower division opposition.

What to expect

Okay, it’s hard to truly predict what’s going to happen in this match-up. Everything from lineups to outcomes is up in the air. MLS teams will generally field a “B-team” or even “C-team” in Open Cup play — especially in the earlier rounds — to rest the legs of their preferred starters in the middle of a congested schedule. However, with no other games in sight until June 22 for Real Salt Lake, there would be a good chance we could see a full-strength squad against LAFC tonight. That is, if we weren’t decimated by international call-ups.

Jefferson Savarino, who scored a banger against the United States over the weekend, is out with the Venezuelan national team for Copa America play, while Albert Rusnak has been called up to the Slovakian team for their UEFA EURO Qualifiers.

In addition, we’ll be missing four more young guys who were called into the US U-23 training camp, which incidentally is being held right here in Herriman. Newly-appointed head coach Jason Kreis called in Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera, Bofo Saucedo, and Brooks Lennon for the camp, giving his old team a solid nod to four guys who seem to have a bright future in US soccer.

The visitors

LAFC isn’t without call-ups of their own, either, as they lost four players to Gold Cup rosters alone. Both Tyler Miller and Walker Zimmerman were called in for the USA squad, while Peter-Lee Vassell heads out with Jamaica and Mark-Anthony Kaye gets the nod from Canada.

I know, I didn’t mention Carlos Vela in that list, but it wasn’t a mistake. He was left out of Mexico’s final Gold Cup roster. The reason? Vela didn’t want to go. Yep, he made the decision to skip the Gold Cup altogether, even after El Tri’s head coach Tata Martino made it clear he would like Carlos on the squad.

In addition, they’ll still have big players available like Diego Rossi, Adama Diomande, Latif Blessing, and Lee Nguyen. Whether Bob Bradley opts to play as many first-team starters tonight is up in the air, but again, with no games on the immediate horizon — LAFC doesn’t play again until June 28 — there would be almost no reason not to go full-boar if Bradley is taking this competition seriously.

The one argument for benching his starters would be to simply give the younger, less experienced players a chance to shine in a meaningful game, especially when RSL will be missing plenty of firepower as well.

The competition

Every year is a big debate around the league, as to whether MLS clubs should take this competition seriously or not. There are plenty of people with opinions from both sides of the fence, and every year there are at least a handful of MLS teams that get knocked out in their first game, including Real Salt Lake. RSL has played exactly one USOC cup game in each of the last two iterations of the tournament, losing 4-1 to Sacramento Republic FC in 2017, while getting knocked out by Sporting Kansas City last year 2-0.

Facts are facts, though: The US Open Cup is the quickest way to get back to CONCACAF Champions League. We’ve heard this statement multiple times from RSL staffers over the years, and they’re right. An MLS side only needs to win five games to secure a berth into next year’s CCL, which isn’t too much to ask, right? Unfortunately, RSL has only come close to achieving that once, when they hosted DC United in the USOC final in 2013, ultimately falling short and losing 1-0. Keep in mind, this was the year that RSL finished fourth in the league and made it to the MLS Cup Final against Kansas City, while DC United finished dead last in the table, winning only three games in MLS play.

Results like that speak volumes to what can happen in this tournament. Any team who is considered a “sure thing” can be turned on its head by any team at any moment. We could theoretically see Bob Bradley put out his best starting XI tonight while Mike Petke is forced to bring in several Real Monarchs players, and still send LAFC packing. That’s the beauty of this tournament for me: anything can happen.


Real Salt Lake
OUT: Jordan Allen (season-ending injury), Tony Beltran (knee), Albert Rusnak (int’l duty), Jefferson Savarino (int’l duty), Sebastian Saucedo (int’l duty), Justen Glad (int’l duty), Brooks Lennon (int’l duty), Aaron Herrera (int’l duty)

Los Angeles FC
OUT: Steven Beitashour (hamstring), Javi Perez (ACL tear), Tyler Miller (int’l duty), Walker Zimmerman (int’l duty), Mark-Anthony Kaye (int’l duty), Peter-Lee Vassell (int’l duty)
QUESTIONABLE: Alejandro Guido (quad strain)

Match info

When: Tuesday, June 11, 8:00PM MT

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT

Weather: 74 degrees, clear skies