By TYLER GRAY
SANDY, Utah– Jason Kreis’ nightmare scenario nearly came true.
A year after losing in the U.S. Open Cup third round to NASL club Minnesota Stars (now Minnesota United), Real Salt Lake conceded a lead just three minutes before full time, forcing this year’s third round match against a lower division opponent into extra time.
It took an extra thirty minutes but RSL accomplished their goal, scoring twice in extra time to defeat the Atlanta Silverbacks, 3-2, on a rainy Tuesday night in front of 9,644 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium. Khari Stevenson scored the eventual match-winning goal in the 101st minute, following strikes from Kyle Beckerman and Devon Sandoval.
“Again, another game where we’ve got to put away our chances, and it’s an easy win,” the manager Kreis said after the match. “We were kicking it around the goal, some chances weren’t taken. Tonight is very much a result of just not putting away chances to finish the game.”
Beckerman put the home side up in just the 3th minute when he got on the end of a Javier Morales corner kick and headed the ball down past Silverbacks goalkeeper Joe Nasco. RSL held the one-goal lead for the majority of the game but couldn’t capitalize on the many opportunities they had to extend their lead.
“It’s just about finishing chances for us and that’s been the story all season,” Beckerman explained. “We have to just continue to get better at it. Tonight we got into a dogfight which we shouldn’t have if we finished better.”
Finishing has been a problem for RSL this season and Tuesday evening was no different. The Western Conference club had a total of 8 shots on goal but only scored on three of them, the final two coming in extra time.
In the 87th minute, Kreis’ squad paid for failing to put away the Silverbacks. Substitute forward Kellen Gulley, who is on loan from the Chicago Fire, found himself in on goal on the counter and attempted a chip over RSL keeper Josh Saunders. Saunders was able to get a hand on it but the ball still trickled in to level the match at one.
“If you take these teams lightly, they’ll come at you,” Saunders explained. “We withstood a lot of pressure and unfortunately gave up a goal kind of late. Everybody wanted to get out of the rain and finish the game off but we showed a lot of character to come back after taking that goal and scored two in the overtime period.”
Sandoval, playing a midfield role on Tuesday due to injuries, added one of the overtime goals in the 98th minute and Stephenson scored the winner three minutes later, blasting a close range shot into the upper 90.
“Lovel [Palmer] crossed the ball and the defender tried to clear it,” Stephenson said. “It came straight to me, and I took a touch to the right, got by a guy, and then hit it. It was a well-placed shot and it went in.”
Silverbacks substitute Pablo Cruz was able to pull one back for the visitors in the 121st minute,but it was too little, too late, as the referee blew the final whistle just moments later.
RSL will welcome in the Charleston Battery for the next round of the Open Cup after they were able to defeat the San Jose Earthquakes 1-0.
“I want to win this tournament,” Kreis said. ‘I want to win it in the worst way.”