Real Salt Lake tops Wilmington, headed to U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals

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Real Salt Lake beat the Wilmington Hammerheads 2-0 in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup at Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday night, sending Real to the quarterfinals to face FC Dallas on July 12 in Dallas.

This was Real Salt Lake’s fourth match in only 11 days, but there was little sign of fatigue. Coming off of a 3-1 home win against Toronto FC on Saturday, Real Salt Lake carried that momentum into Tuesday’s game.

Despite playing into the wind, Real Salt Lake started strong. After a hard-fought battle, defender Tony Beltran scored his first RSL goal, one that bounced off the keeper in the 40th minute and was assisted by forward Jean Alexandre. Only four minutes later, Alexandre netted a goal of his own off a pass from midfielder Will Johnson. Real Salt Lake took the 2-0 lead into the half.

When asked about Beltran’s first career goal with the team, Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said, “He’s had a few good chances to score in his career, so it was good to see him finally get one in.”

The second half brought plenty of scoreless action. Real Salt Lake logged four shots on goal, including an Andy Williams’ rip from 26 yards out that rocked off the crossbar in the 81st minute. RSL’s 17-year-old forward Luis Gil also had a shot bounce off the post in the 77th minute. Despite the excitement, no one could put the ball in the back of the net.

“[Gil] is a great competitor,” Kreis said. “Considering his strength and size now, we are looking forward to see what he can do as he matures.”

This is Real Salt Lake’s first appearance in the cup since 2006.┬áThe winner of the U.S. Open Cup not only gets bragging rights as the best professional soccer team in the United States, but also qualifies for the 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League. The Seattle Sounders have won the past two U.S. Open Cups and Real Salt Lake is looking to put an end to that streak this year, considering Real came just short of joining the Champions League last year.

Real Salt Lake is currently in fourth place in the Western Conference of Major League Soccer. Real is only five points behind the two teams tied for second who have each played at least two more games than RSL.

The Wilmington Hammerheads are in the American Division of the United Soccer League and have yet to win an away game this season. The North Carolina team was one of the most successful minor league soccer teams in U.S. history, which qualified them to graduate to the professional status for the 2011 season. The Hammerheads won their second round game in the U.S. Open Cup, beating the Charlotte Eagles 3-2 last week.

Real Salt Lake will face the New England Revolution at home Monday at 6:30 pm with a fireworks show following the game.

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