LAFC vs Real Salt Lake: Open Cup Preview
Let’s try this again.
After a heartbreaking exit from the competition last year where LAFC was eliminated during the semifinal round in a penalty kick shootout vs Houston Dynamo, the Black & Gold return to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2019 with a sense of redemption. Their first obstacle is Real Salt Lake, a team that brings back unpleasant memories in knockout-stage matches where winning means advancing and losing means going home (RSL defeated LAFC 2-1 in the 2018 MLS Playoffs knockout round). The 4th round game is scheduled for Tuesday June 11th with kickoff set for 7pm at Rio Tinto Stadium. With LAFC currently on an 8-game unbeaten streak in league play and RSL on a 2-game losing streak, it is safe to the say that the Black & Gold are the favorites to win this one. However, due to Gold Cup international call-ups, LAFC will be missing a few key players as Real Salt Lake will also be missing some of their own.
RSL missing key players
Real Salt Lake have not had the greatest of seasons this year in MLS but they are currently hanging on to the last playoff spot in the Western Conference even after losing more than half of their games played. A major part of their success this season is owed to the 5 goals from midfielder Albert Rusnak, 3 goals from forward Jefferson Savarino and 2 goals from forward Sebastian Saucedo. Unfortunately for RSL, all three will not be available vs LAFC due to international duty along with three other players: defender Justen Glad, defender Aaron Herrera and defender Brooks Lennon. With six first-team players out, a depleted Real Salt Lake side will be forced to place several reserves in the starting lineup.
Don’t count out the Claret and Cobalt though, as they still have dangerous players like forward Sam Johnson (5 goals in 2019), midfielder Damir Kreilach (3 goals in 2019) and the experienced goalkeeper Nick Rimando. The motivation of playing at home in the U.S. Open Cup against the best team in MLS does not happen every day. After being eliminated in this same round last year at home vs Sporting KC, Real Salt Lake will look to give their fans something to cheer for and complete the upset.
Keep It Going
LAFC are having a record-breaking season after 16 games played with club captain Carlos Vela leading the way with 16 goals and 10 assists. Fortunately for the Black & Gold, Vela was not called up to the Mexican National Team for the Gold Cup so he will be available for selection on Tuesday night. However, a total of four players will be absent in Utah due to international duty for the Gold Cup: goalkeeper Tyler Miller (USA), defender Walker Zimmerman (USA) and midfielders Mark-Anthony Kaye (Canada) and Peter-Lee Vassell (Jamaica). With the exception of Vassell, these are regular starters for the Black & Gold as head coach Bob Bradley hopes that the chemistry on the field does not change with their substitutes. 23-year old goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega will make his LAFC debut in goal, Brazilian defender Danilo Silva will more than likely cover for Zimmerman in defense and veteran midfielder Lee Nguyen will probably play alongside Atuesta and Blessing in the center of the pitch.
In addition to the international call-ups, LAFC have loaned out defender Dejan Jakovic to USL side Las Vegas Lights and reportedly sold Designated Player Andre Horta to Portuguese side Braga for $2.5 million. This will allow players like Mohamed El-Munir and Joshua Perez see the field more often and the Open Cup is a great way for reserve players to impress the head coach into getting them more minutes in league play. It is still uncertain whether Rodolfo Zelaya will make his LAFC debut on Tuesday vs RSL but all signs point to the Salvadorian putting on the Black & Gold jersey for the first time very soon.
Bob Bradley and his players have expressed their desire to win this trophy not only because it will be the first in LAFC history but because it will automatically qualify them for the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League. Although the heavy favorites, LAFC need to not get overconfident because at the end of the day, its 11v11 on the field. But most importantly, it’s win or go home.