By TYLER GRAY
SANDY, Utah -Down two goals in the first 18 minutes of Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup match, Real Salt Lake were in desperate need of a hero.
Up stepped the wild-haired rookie Devon Sandoval, who delivered a brace and saved the club from embarrassment as they roared back from the first half deficit, tying the match in the second half and scoring three more in extra time to down the Charleston Battery, 5-2, at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The Battery sat patiently in their defensive third for the first quarter of an hour before striking two quick goals. Forward Dane Kelly’s 15th minute goal put his side in the lead, which was doubled in the 18th minute thanks to midfielder Nicki Patterson’s timely strike past RSL goalkeeper Josh Saunders.
“I was really disappointed, obviously, with what happened in the first half,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis said after the match. “I thought we started out pretty decently, and the first basic chance they get behind our back four, they score. It was very frustrating.”
It took a timely double substitution in the 63rd minute from Kreis to inject some creativity and excitement into the match. The RSL boss chose to bring on forward Joao Plata and experienced midfielder Khari Stephenson in a more attacking formation, going with just three defenders at the back.
The substitutions proved to be the correct decision, as just three minutes later, Sandoval bagged his first goal of the night on a header from teammate Tony Beltran to cut the deficit in half. RSL completed the comeback in the 79th minute when Plata earned a penalty kick, taking the spot kick himself and scoring a beautiful goal to tie the match.
“I think Javier takes the penalties most of the time, but he asked me if I feel confident and I said ‘yes,’” Plata said. “Thank God I scored it. I’ve been practicing [penalty shots] in training and it was a good shot.”
At the end of 90 minutes with the scores level, the two sides were forced to head to overtime, the second consecutive round for RSL where they needed to play bonus soccer to determine a winner.
It only took the hosts seven minutes into the first period of overtime to take the lead. Plata sent a ball into the box that found the head of Sandoval, who finished his second of the match past Battery goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper to the delight of the home fans.
“I didn’t think (Sandoval) was the sharpest, until he scored that goal,” Kreis said. “Then I thought he was fantastic. I don’t think he put a wrong touch the rest of the way.”
RSL piled on two more goals before the 30 minutes of overtime had been completed. Stephenson blasted a blistering shot from just outside the penalty box into the top corner in the 105th minute, while playmaker Javier Morales, playing the entire 120 minutes, scored the side’s second penalty kick of the game to finish off the rout in the 108th minute.
“In the second half, (RSL) created pockets of three on the outside and didn’t give the ball away,” Battery head coach Michael Anhaeuser said. “They got the ball in on crosses and put us under some pressure. You could see we didn’t have the legs.”
It was an inspiring scene after the game as Real Salt Lake and Charleston players swapped jerseys while the home fans applauded the visiting side. The Battery ‘keeper Cooper, who had 9 saves despite letting in 5 goals, even took the time to take pictures and talk with RSL fans after the match.
“I challenged the guys at halftime, and credit to them for the response they showed – to score five goals in a game is really good,” Kreis said.
Real Salt Lake will next host the Carolina Railhawks on June 26th in the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup.