As fun as it's been to be a part of RSL's scintillating run of form in MLS play as of late, it's time to put that on hold for a few days. That's because a huge opportunity is knocking for the Claret-and-Cobalt this week: Their Quarterfinal matchup in the 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. On Wednesday RSL will host the NASL's Carolina Railhawks at Rio Tinto Stadium with a trip to the Semifinals against either the Portland Timbers or FC Dallas on the line. Real has talked about the emphasis being put on the tournament this year - talk which has been backed up by strong lineups thus far - and this game will be no different. Expect RSL to trot out its best available lineup for this one, in spite of this being the team's second of four matches in just 12 days. And if you're Jason Kreis, that makes sense when you consider the following:
- RSL is only three wins away from getting the CONCACAF Champion's League berth that goes to the winner of the U.S. Open Cup. When you consider the various paths that lead to a Champion's League spot, at the moment this one is by far the easiest.
- The stars seems to be lining up for RSL. It's almost like some unearthly force wants Salt Lake to win the Cup. Kreis is fond of saying "fortune favors the bold", but sometimes fortune just favors the fortunate. Real has played all three of their Open Cup matches at home, and if they win, they will also host the Semifinal match. While the odds of winning a coin flip (which is how match venues are determined in the USOC) are 1 out of 2, the odds of winning four straight coin flips like RSL just did are only 1 out of 16. On top of that, Salt Lake also has yet to face an MLS opponent in Open Cup play.
- The Quarterfinals is the farthest RSL have ever advanced in this tournament. A win on Wednesday would break new ground for the franchise.
As I wrote last week, any fan who hasn't experienced a U.S. Open match needs to get down to the stadium for this one. Both teams are going to be highly motivated since a win gets them two wins away from hoisting the trophy and their next match would be at home. Carolina will be a decided underdog against the MLS league leaders, but don't underestimate the RailHawks - they've done well in the tournament before and have already sent Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy packing this year. Carolina's roster is loaded with ex-MLS talent and plenty of young MLS players on loan, and their coach Colin Clarke is a familiar face in MLS circles, heading up FC Dallas from 2003-2006.
For RSL's part, fielding a strong lineup means they will be anxious to take command of the match early and not give Carolina a chance to get a late equalizer or winner. If a criticism can be made of RSL's Open Cup run so far, it's that both previous matches against lower-division opponents have gone to extra time. RSL eventually showed their quality in those matches, but they made for tense moments and extra work to be done. With four games in 12 days, Kreis won't be eager to see his team put in 120 minutes on Wednesday - strong emphasis will be placed and getting ahead and not allowing a comeback.
A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.