SANDY, Utah — Fatigue seem to have finally caught up with Real Salt Lake.
In the fourth round of the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, RSL fell 2-0 to Sporting Kansas City at Rio Tinto Stadium as coach Mike Petke sat out most of his starting core.
Entering the second half, it was almost as if Sporting KC caught the home squad off guard. In the 47th minute, Kharlton Belmar executed a brilliant cross to Johnny Russell, who then headed in a beautiful goal to give SKC a 1-0 lead.
“We were fighting an uphill battle from there,” said midfielder Nick Besler.
In the 74th minute, Russell and Belmar reversed roles as Russell hit Belmar and Belmar scored. An RSL misstep during the play almost made it appear the team gave up an own-goal, but Sporting was credited with the score. The sequence gave Sporting KC a 2-0 lead.
As Real Salt Lake is in the middle of a 15-day span with five competitions, the team sat out a few veteran players: goalkeeper Nick Rimando, midfielder Kyle Beckerman and defender Justen Glad. The later start (8 p.m.) on a week night also saw plenty of fans sit this game out, too, with an announced crowd of 15,833. And while Real’s normal rotation was a bit out of sorts, Besler said it wasn’t an excuse for the team to lose a game.
“It’s a little bit more difficult [when the rotation changes], however, we’re professional and we should be expected to perform no matter who we put out there,” Besler said. “Unfortunately we’re not advancing and that’s on us as players.”
Petke agreed and said he thought his team was chasing Sporting KC for much of the second half.
“[Tonight] was an opportunity to get guys who have not gotten any minutes or a lot of minutes this year, some minutes. … I felt comfortable after the first 45 [minutes],” Petke said. “Then the goal early in the second half killed us.”
The fact that RSL shuffled its roster didn’t give Kansas City any advantage, with the visiting squad doing the same. Coming off of a Sunday game this past weekend, then playing the Open Cup game on Wednesday and getting back to action on Saturday, Sporting KC had to manage its roster accordingly.
“The way we put together our game plan kept us really efficient in the game. We didn’t waste a lot of energy” said Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes. “We picked our chance when we could and stuck the ball away, which obviously made the game lot easier because then they started to push a little bit.”
José Hernández missed a couple of great opportunities to score in the first half, but Zendejas wasn’t going to let anything by him as he earned the shutout for the game.
Though Petke may not have seemed too invested by not starting his typical 11 players, the loss still stung for him and the rest of the squad.
“It’s always discouraging. I always want to win. I’m a very competitive person, so is every player who played tonight and every player who didn’t play tonight,” Petke said. “This is what we do to win a game. Maybe discouraging is a tough word, but upset from a competitive standpoint, absolutely.”
The Round of 16 draw will take place on Thursday, June 7, and Sporting KC will learn its fate for the next round.