clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Real Salt Lake returns to Rio Tinto Stadium for U.S. Open Cup clash

RSL midfielder Luke Mulholland tries to keep the ball away from Portland midfielder Diego Chara during the Real Salt Lake and Portland Timbers soccer game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015.
RSL midfielder Luke Mulholland tries to keep the ball away from Portland midfielder Diego Chara during the Real Salt Lake and Portland Timbers soccer game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015.
Deseret News

SANDY — If any Real Salt Lake players need extra motivation heading into Tuesday night’s U.S. Open Cup clash against lower-division Wilmington, all they need to do is look across the locker room at Luke Mulholland.

During his ascent to MLS, Mulholland spent a year with the Wilmington Hammerheads in 2011. That success is something RSL coach Jeff Cassar said his team needs to weary of, because there are always unheralded players looking to make a name for themselves against bigger clubs.

“At the end of the day I look at these teams as a bunch of younger Luke Mulhollands. There’s going to be one or two that have a chance out of this team, maybe three,” said Cassar.

RSL knows as well as anyone that anything can happen in the U.S. Open Cup.

In 2012 and 2014, it was eliminated by an NASL team in its first game. Then in 2013 it lost to D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup final at Rio Tinto Stadium and last year lost to Kansas City in the semifinals.

Will the 2016 Cup feature another deep tourney run for Real Salt Lake, or will it be another one-and-done year?

Cassar said respecting Wilmington is key to avoiding the latter.

“It’s a team we’re not going to take lightly by any means,” said Cassar. “They’re a hardworking team. They have some players that have sniffed the MLS. They’re good. They’re a quality team, their coach has them working hard together, they hunt in packs.”

Tuesday’s match (8 p.m., ESPN700) will be the first on the newly installed playing field at Rio Tinto Stadium. RSL beat Houston 2-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium on April 30, but removal of the turf began the next day — and consequently Cassar’s team played five straight on the road.

Along with prize money and allocation money, Cassar said the automatic berth into the CONCACAF Champions League that’s awarded to the Open Cup champion is a huge motivation not to take Wilmington lightly.

“There’s a lot to play for. It’s something that our club takes very seriously. Obviously we want to win championships, but I really always want to get back into the Champions League some way,” said Cassar.

RSL is 11-11-1 all-time in U.S. Open Cup play, including an 8-2-0 record at home. Against lower-division foes, it’s 5-1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium.

The first three rounds of the Open Cup were exclusively for lower-division teams, but 16 MLS teams join the competition in the fourth round this week. There are always upsets, and some years it’s not uncommon for five or six MLS teams to bow out early.

“If you take them lightly you run that risk,” said Cassar.

James Edward is the Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer. EMAIL: jedward@deseretnews.com