Real edges Atlanta 3-2 in US Open Cup

By JOHN COON
The Associated Press
SANDY, Utah — An embarrassing upset in the U.S. Open Cup a year ago motivated Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis.

He vowed things would be different for his team this time around. They would be prepared to play aggressive, fundamentally sound soccer.

The script nearly played out the same for Salt Lake, though. After dominating for nearly 90 minutes of regulation, RSL found itself in an overtime game against a determined lower-division opponent. It took a couple of late goals to alter the ending.

Devon Sandoval and Khari Stephenson each scored in overtime to lift Salt Lake to a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Silverbacks of NASL on Tuesday night.

RSL improved to 6-8 all-time in U.S. Open Cup competition. The MLS team will host the Charleston Battery on June 12.

“This could be somewhat of a momentum builder if we look at it the right way,” Kreis said. “It would have been easy to fold up shop and walk away with a loss, and we’re proud of ourselves that we didn’t. We kept our chins up, worked hard and scored two goals to win the game.”

Salt Lake lost to the Minnesota Stars 3-1 at home a year ago. Atlanta rallied from an early deficit to force overtime this time around.

Kyle Beckerman struck first in the third minute when he headed home a corner kick from Javier Morales to give RSL a 1-0 lead.

Kellen Gulley fired a high shot from the center of the penalty area to even the score in the 87th minute. Salt Lake Goalkeeper Josh Saunders got his fingertips on the ball, but it bounced off his glove and hopped into the net to give Gulley his first professional goal.

He is on loan to Atlanta from the MLS’s Chicago Fire.

“Coming in here, everybody is looking at us like we’re not expected to do all that much against an MLS team,” Atlanta goalkeeper Joe Nasco said. “We just kept our heads up and kept fighting. That’s all it’s about. You got to keep grinding and that’s what we did.”

Sandoval put Salt Lake back ahead in the 98th minute and Stephenson scored three minutes later.

Sandoval’s winner came when Joao Plata fed a cross into him. Sandoval slid forward and tapped the ball into the net.

Stephenson gave Salt Lake a two-goal lead when he unleashed a right-footed drive from the center of the box.

Pablo Cruz tacked on a goal for the Silverbacks in the final minute of overtime.

Sandoval did not sport the enthusiasm of a player who scored a decisive goal. The rookie forward pulled RSL out of a jam, but he felt like it was a situation his team should never dealt with in the first place.

“I was really happy to score in overtime,” Sandoval said. “Saying that, we got to be able lock it down better because we’ve been giving up a lot of goals lately.”

Atlanta initially struggled to answer Beckerman’s goal, generating virtually no scoring chances. The Silverbacks had zero shots on goal in the first half and spent much of the first 45 minutes trying to repel RSL attacks. Salt Lake could not take advantage.

Morales blew a point-blank shot from about 14 yards in the 26th minute. Nasco denied a couple of early second-half shots, and Nasco’s most impressive save occurred in the 51st minute. He stuffed a shot from Sandoval after Robbie Findley sent a cross into Sandoval.

Nasco came up big again in the 77th minute when he dived to prevent Plata from tapping in at the near post.

“Our main problem or concern for me is finishing,” Beckerman said. “We’re creating chance after chance after chance. If we can finish just half of the chances, then it doesn’t matter if they score at the end. Yeah, we’d be upset we didn’t get a shutout. We’re not finishing and we’re ending up getting in dogfights when we really shouldn’t be because we’re dominating games.”

The Silverbacks played more aggressively both ways in the second half. They nearly tied it in the 61st minute when Jahbari Willis latched onto a bad pass and fired off a quick shot that sailed high and wide.

Copyright The Associated Press

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