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RSL opens U.S. Open Cup with tough draw in LAFC

Head coach Mike Petke directs players during a Real Salt Lake practice at America First Field in Sandy on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. RSL hosts Vancouver in its home opener on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Head coach Mike Petke directs players during a Real Salt Lake practice at America First Field in Sandy on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

HERRIMAN — Tuesday night's game won't count toward the MLS standings, but that doesn't mean Real Salt Lake isn't taking it seriously.

RSL is treating its U.S. Open Cup match against Los Angeles FC — 8 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium — like it's any other important match.

That isn't always the case. Sometimes, MLS clubs will rest a good chunk of players during their extracurricular tournaments. It helps Real's cause that its next game isn't until June 22, thanks to the CONCACAF Gold Cup break.

"For this game, we’re certainly taking it like the regular season," RSL coach Mike Petke said, "because we have this huge break, so it fits in perfectly for us for this one. ... We always take it serious, but we can’t always put out our so-called starting lineup. It depends on the time of the year."

That definitely benefits RSL against LAFC, which currently leads the MLS standings with an 11-1-4 record. Los Angeles has 37 points, which tops the Western Conference by nine (over the L.A. Galaxy) and is six more than the second-best team in the league (Philadelphia Union).

While LAFC tops ESPN's power rankings, RSL dropped to No. 16 this week and now carries a 6-8-1 mark. Real, now seventh in the West, comes into this Open match having dropped two consecutive road games, 2-1 at Montreal and 4-0 at New York.

"I thought we were very good in spurts on the two-game road trip, but the times that we got away from the things that we were trying to accomplish in the game was when we got punished," Petke said.

To get a positive result against L.A., Petke said his team will need to give: "a full 90, following the tactical approach, understanding what it is and recognizing that what’s working we have to continue to do and not deviate from it."

The U.S. Open Cup features some amateur teams and clubs from the two biggest professional soccer leagues in the country, MLS and USL. Tonight's match is part of the fourth round of the longest-running soccer tourney in the nation.

"It’s an elimination competition," Petke said. "We’re just going to continue to push the way we want to play. This is not a practice game at all. This is a competition that we want to advance in."

Petke admitted his team got "a tough draw" against LAFC, which beat Real 2-1 in March after RSL took a 3-2 decision last November. Of the 16 fourth-round matches, only five feature MLS clubs playing each other.

"They’re a really good team, obviously," Petke said. "We’ve done well against them the last two times. We have to look to take advantage in every way we can."

Winners advance to the Round of 16, which will take place next week. The overall tournament winner nets $300,000 and a berth in CONCACAF Champions League.

"Each team, I'm assuming, does the same thing — you sit down and prioritize what's the most important," Petke said. "MLS Cup, of course, is important. We have this competition that we’re in with the Mexican teams midsummer, which is important. We have the Open Cup, making the playoffs. All that stuff. Again, it’s an opportunity for us during a break to put out a strong team and to go for it this game."