USOC: RSL and Sacramento Republic ready to meet in Open Cup Clash

Struggling Real Salt Lake go on the road to visit Sacramento Republic FC of the USL in an Open Cup showdown. Here’s what we’ll be watching for.

Following a much-needed break for international play, Real Salt Lake prepare for a midweek match against Sacramento Republic FC of USL. Real will have a full slate of first-team players to choose from, save Albert Rusnák and Nick Rimando, who are still on international duty. Head coach Mike Petke also told the media last week that he expects to call-up several Real Monarchs players, who are currently the top team in USL, for the Open Cup contest.

Of those Monarchs players being called up, arguably the most deserving won’t be with them. Chandler Hoffman and Sebastian Velasquez have been ruled ineligible by a CBA rule, stating players on affiliate rosters over the age of 25 are unable to be called up to the first-team. 

Sacramento Republic currently sits in tenth place in the USL Western Conference, and have traditionally been one of the stronger USL sides since their debut 2014 season. This year they have struggled, but have started to find more results in league play after finding their form in their previous two Open Cup matches. This will be the second time the Republic have faced RSL, the first being a 2-0 loss in a visit to a sold-out Rio Tinto, where Sebastian Velasquez and Robbie Findley were the difference makers.

Real Salt Lake

May 31, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Real Salt Lake forward Joao Plata (10) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal during the second half against the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Current Record: 4-10-2

Last Time Out: 6-2 loss at FC Dallas

With RSL having mostly everyone healthy, along with having the U-20 players back from the U-20 World Cup, it’s hard to predict who will end up in the starting lineup. Given Real’s recent form, an argument can be made that a first choice side should be deployed against the Republic in an attempt to build some much-needed cohesion and momentum. However, Real Monarchs already handled Sacramento this season, winning 2-0 at home, and could give RSL first teamers some additional rest as they prepare to take on Minnesota United at home.

Player To Watch: Jose Hernandez. While head coach Mike Petke will have plenty of tough decisions about who to play in the match, key playmaker Albert Rusnák will be unavailable, along with his Monarchs equivalent Velasquez. Jose Hernandez has shown well with both the Monarchs and RSL as of late and could be the most natural fit to slot into the middle and pull the strings. He will play a key role in making the offense click, which will likely be a mix of players from both teams, who he is already familiar with.

Why They Win: The Real Monarchs just set a USL record with their eighth consecutive win, and are a force to be reckoned with in league play. They lead the league in goals scored, have a league best goal difference, and have only dropped one result this year, a 2-1 road loss to Colorado Springs. Everything else has been three points. Sacramento on the other hand has struggled most of the season. Republic has failed to score in eight of their 13 matches in league play, and have only won once after starting the season with three straight victories. Even if Petke decides to deploy the Monarchs in RSL kits, they should take care of business.

Why They Won’t: Petke could also decide to send out the U-20’s to get re-acclimated with the team, along with Jordan Allen and David Horst who are recovering from injury. The four U-20 players along with Allen and Horst would beef up and already meaty Monarchs roster. On paper, there seem to be few ways to see RSL losing this one, but their horrible form recently could easily prove otherwise. The one-off nature of the match also means anything is possible. After ending the Philadelphia Union’s win streak, Real tanked on their Texas road trip, getting destroyed by a combined total of 11-3 by FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo. If RSL continues with their defensive mistakes and poor play, the Republic could pull off a somewhat predictable upset.

Predicted Starting XI:

Sacramento Republic

February 20, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Republic FC and San Jose Earthquakes players are escorted by children before the match at Bonney Field. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Current Record: 4-6-3

Last Time Out: 2-0 loss on the road against Reno 1868 FC.

How The Got Here: 2-0 home victory against Reno 1868 FC.

Sacramento was the top Western Conference side in 2016 before getting upset by eighth-seed Orange County on penalty kicks in their first playoff match. The Republic have made a similar upset in the past, winning the league title as the eighth-seed in their inaugural season back in 2014. The club has made the playoffs every year since, but have yet to add an Open Cup run to their resume.

Player To Watch: Danny Barrera. It could be a perfect storm for the home side. The Republic’s captain has played every minute for Sacramento this year across all competitions. The veteran midfielder plays a key role in the Republic’s attack, traditionally being deployed on the right-wing this season. Real has struggled to defend the right side as of late, as Michael Barrios of FC Dallas registered three assists in Dallas’s 6-2 victory, and Alberth Elis had a field day against RSL in Houston’s 5-1 thrashing. Along with the two most recent results, Kevin Molino had a goal and two assists from the right in Minnesota’s first-ever victory, beating RSL 4-2 back in April. Kei Kamara, Roger Espinoza, and Hector Villalba also all had good days on the right side against RSL, but were not as devastating as those previously mentioned. If Barrera, who has a goal and three assists this season, can get things rolling for the Republic from the right, RSL could be in for another long day.

Why They Win: As previously mentioned, RSL has struggled of late, especially in defending the right side, and have been prone to give up multiple goals off sloppy giveaways and in transition. If Sacramento can stay sound with their possession and take advantage of turnovers, they could earn themselves the result at home. The Republic have struggled to score this season, but the club jumped out to a 4-0 victory in their first Open Cup match and beat Reno 2-0 in their second. Another strong cup showing at home against RSL could see them advance to the next round. Real has also struggled on the road this season, save a victory against MLS-worst Colorado Rapids, a draw against short-handed New York Red Bulls, and a 1-0 loss at Seattle, RSL has lost by multiple goals in their other six road contests. Sacramento is 2-1-1 in their four home matches in league play and hosted both of their previous Open Cup matches.

Why They Won’t: Real Salt Lake is trying to save their season after a slow start, and are on the verge of a lost season. Many of their early struggles came from injuries and call-ups to key contributors. They won’t have that issue anymore. Following the blowout at FC Dallas, head coach Mike Petke warned his team to prepare to, “fight like dogs” in order to receive playing time, and the match against the Republic is the first time we’ll see that new philosophy instilled. The RSL defense has struggled most of the year as well, but Justen Glad and David Horst are back from injury and ready to bring even more competition to the center-back corps. Sacramento has struggled both on either offense or defense during through multiple matches this season. If the RSL and Monarchs players who get the start in this one look to make a statement, it could be a long day for Sacramento.

Predicted Starting XI:

Prediction and How To Watch

May 27, 2017; Sandy, UT, USA; Real Salt Lake manager Mike Petke during the first half against the Philadelphia Union at Rio Tinto Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

While RSL has struggled lately and is one of the more venerable MLS sides entering the Open Cup, Sacramento Republic doesn’t seem to be playing at a level enough to beat them. Especially if the Real Monarchs get to have a run in the RSL cup opener, coincidentally. Unless it turns into a defensive stalemate, look for RSL to run away with this one.

Prediction: Real Salt Lake 2 – Sacramento Republic FC 0

When: Wednesday, June 14, 2017. 10:30 pm EST

Where: Papa Murphy’s Park. Sacramento, CA.