SANDY, Utah — It's not often that a second-round pick in the MLS SuperDraft can make such an impact on an established team like Real Salt Lake, but that is exactly what rookie Devon Sandoval continues to do.
The University of New Mexico product's goal in the first period extra time of RSL's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game against the Atlanta Silverbacks on was huge, giving the home team the momentum it desperately needed to hold on and win 3-2 on Tuesday night. The victory means that the Claret-and-Cobalt will host USL Pro side Charleston Battery – which upset RSL’s next MLS opponent the San Jose Earthquakes on Tuesday – in the tournament’s fourth round on June 12 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Sandoval's work rate is nearly unparalleled. RSL coach Jason Kreis and the training staff have used adidas MiCoach technology occasionally in training and in games on many of the players, and Sandoval regularly covers the most ground on the team.
"I'd like to put a chart on him because he was working extremely hard," said Kreis in his postgame press conference. "I did feel like he had gone through a lull over the past couple of weeks, where his fitness level, I think, dropped a little bit, but tonight he proved me absolutely wrong. He worked extremely hard, covered an unbelievable amount of ground. Then, he was forced to play in the midfield in the overtime period, and I think he did it quite admirably."
Sandoval's hard work paid off when he scored the go-ahead goal in the 98th minute.
"Plata made a beautiful run and (sent) a beautiful ball to the near post — I was making that run pretty much the whole game — and finally, the ball got through to me and I was able to beat the defender to it. I got my foot on it and put it away," said the forward. "That ball Plata played was perfect."
Defender Lovel Palmer began experiencing a bit of cramping in extra time, and with Atlanta throwing numbers forward and RSL out of substitutions, the team moved the Jamaican up top where he wasn't pressured as much to run and risk further injury. To compensate, the team moved Sandoval back to right midfield and dropped midfielder Ned Grabavoy into Palmer's right back slot.
"It was definitely an experience playing in the midfield, and I'm sure Ned felt the same playing right back, but it is all good," said Sandoval, who said he hadn't played that position in a real game in a long, long time.
With Sandoval covering literally miles and miles of ground over a full 120 minutes, his availability for RSL's league game Saturday when they host the San Jose Earthquakes will depend on how quickly he can recover.
"Right now I feel all right," said Sandoval. "We'll see how I feel in the morning. I'll come in and do all our recovery stuff and get ready for the weekend. But it was my first time playing a full 120 (minutes) in a while. I was pretty happy with how I felt the whole time."