SALT LAKE CITY — Real Salt Lake, playing its fourth match in 11 days, looked like it Wednesday night in a 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Head coach Mike Petke started a less-than-best lineup Wednesday, mixing and matching Real Monarch and Real Salt Lake reserve players. The result was a less-than-cohesive or energetic effort. RSL looked lethargic at times and showed very little urgency, especially in the second half when trailing by a goal, and then two late in the match.
After playing scoreless in the first 45 minutes, Sporting scored quickly out of the locker room when Kharlton Belmar found Johnny Russell 7 yards from the goal. Russell put it away with a diving header to make it 1-0. The score remained that way until the 74th minute when Russell returned the favor to Belmar, who got credit for a goal that trickled in off him and Real Salt Lake defender Adam Henley.
RSL's attack was lifeless nearly the entire evening. The team managed just two shots on goal, neither of which was overly threatening for Kansas City's backup keeper Adrian Zendejas. Sporting Kansas City has now beaten Real Salt Lake in their last two meetings in U.S. Open Cup competition, the last coming in the 2015 semifinals in Kansas City.
Here are my "hat trick" of thoughts about Wednesday's Open Cup Match:
Effort and urgency lacking
Petke clearly did not put out the same type of lineup that Sporting head coach Peter Vermes did Wednesday. Petke opted to go the youth route with a combination of mostly Real Monarach players and reserve Real Salt Lake players. Vermes and Kansas City played a mix of reserve and first team players, once again showing off the depth of Sporting and why it is the top team in the Western Conference. From the very jump, Real Salt Lake didn't look like it had a ton of energy or ideas in the final third of the field.
There were a couple of bright spots
On a night where very few chances were created for the home side, two players jumped out from my broadcast vantage point. Andrew Brody and Aaron Herrera were bright spots on a rather dim Wednesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium. Brody, who spends most of his time with the Real Monarchs, was "uber-active" running the outside flanks and pressuring Kansas City's outside backs. Brody created a number of opportunities for teammates in both the first and second halves that simply weren't finished. He seemed to tire late, but not before giving an outstanding effort for 75 plus minutes. Herrera, an RSL Academy and homegrown product, started and played 90 minutes at left back for Petke. Herrera was good getting forward and tracked back well for most of the match. He showed glimpses of why Real Salt Lake's staff thinks he has a bright future.
Another Open Cup exit and back to league play
Real Salt Lake's loss drops it to 11-13-3 all time in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play. Real Salt Lake now turns its attention back to MLS play, where it has won three straight matches and has moved from sixth place to third place in the Western Conference in a little under two weeks.
It was very clear that Petke's big-picture focus was on Saturday night in Los Angeles against the Galaxy. He rested key players like Kyle Beckerman, Jefferson Savarino, Justen Glad, Marcelo Silva and Damir Kreilach. Petke should also have the services of Albert Rusnak as a possibility on Saturday in Southern California, as Rusnak is back from international duty. If RSL wants a shot at hardware this season, it will have to come via the MLS Cup or the Supporters' Shield, as Open Cup has once again eluded the Claret and Cobalt.
You can hear Real Salt Lake and the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday from the Stub Hub Center in Carson, California, on ESPN 700 at 8:30 p.m.