RailHawks fall at Real Salt Lake in Open Cup
No one has been more instrumental in helping Real Salt Lake transform into an elite MLS club than Jason Kreis.
Since retiring as a player and taking over as head coach in 2007, Kreis has led RSL to an MLS Cup, multiple playoff appearances and a runner-up finish in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Kreis took a step closer to potentially adding a U.S. Open Cup trophy to the mix.
Defenders Tony Beltran and Chris Winger took on scoring duties to help Salt Lake reach the U.S. Open Cup semifinals for the first time with a 3-0 victory over the Carolina Railhawks on Wednesday night.
Alvaro Saborio added a third goal late for RSL, which has won six straight games across all competitions. It is also unbeaten in 10 of 11 matches since the start of May.
"I'm pleased, but it means nothing really to me to be in the semifinals," Kreis said. "It will only mean something to win the whole thing."
Salt Lake had reached the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals on two previous occasions, but took 2-0 losses to the Colorado Rapids in 2006 and FC Dallas in 2011. RSL improved to 7-8-1 in Open Cup play and is now 5-2 against lower-division teams.
The result also gave Kreis his 100th career victory since becoming a head coach — and it came with Colin Clarke, who coached him in 2003 and 2004 in Dallas, guiding RSL's opponent.
Clarke is not surprised to see how far Kreis has come in his coaching career. He saw the potential in him during his MLS playing days.
"He's that type of person," Clarke said. "He's a student of the game and he studies it. He's a deep thinker. I knew once he came here and had the opportunity to coach, he'd be successful."
Salt Lake faced a shorthanded RailHawks team that rested several of its starters. Carolina created zero shots before halftime while it turned complete attention to shutting down Salt Lake's powerful offense. They routinely dropped most of their players behind the ball in the first half to keep RSL from getting into an offensive rhythm.
The conservative strategy worked in frustrating Salt Lake's attack. Kyle Beckerman came the closest to breaking through in those early minutes. Beckerman gathered up a loose ball outside the box in the 11th minute and curled a shot toward the far post, but goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald stopped it.
Kreis felt like his team was a little too tentative in the early minutes.
"We're an aggressive team," Kreis said. "We're not a team that can sit back and knock the ball around and be very patient."
That all changed in the 35th minute when Beltran put Salt Lake ahead. Three defenders converged on Saborio when Javier Morales fed him the ball in the center of the box. Saborio flicked it out to Beltran on the right and Beltran sent a low blast he threaded inside the left post.
Wingert followed with just the second goal in his MLS career in the 50th minute. He fired off a left-footer that deflected off Fitzgerald on the line and went in.
"Any time you can score a goal from the outside, it opens them up," Wingert said. "Just having the threat of a good outside shot can be huge. Any time he lines one up, we think it has a chance to go in. Tony is an extremely good striker of the ball. It's just the way we play, the two of us aren't getting a ton of shots."
Saborio came up just short of adding a third goal in the 64th minute. Morales angled a corner kick into him inside the 6-yard box. Saborio headed the ball forward, but it bounced off the post.
He would not be denied for long. Saborio finally scored in the 85th minute when Olmes Garcia tracked down a ball in the corner and crossed it to him in front of the net. Saborio headed it home.