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Real reels versus reserves: Real Salt Lake 0, LAFC 3

LAFC earns a convincing win on the road with three key players away for international duty.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-LAFC at Real Salt Lake
Sisniega earned a shutout in his debut.
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Football Club turned in a 3-0 win over Real Salt Lake in Utah Tuesday night in a fourth round matchup of the 2019 U.S. Open Cup. Carlos Vela continued his goal-scoring tear and Pablo Sisniega earned his first career first-team win in shutout fashion.

Walker Zimmerman, Tyler Miller, and Mark-Anthony Kaye were both unavailable as they were all selected for international duty for this year’s Gold Cup which begins Saturday. Steven Beitashour also remained out with a hamstring strain.

In their stead, Danilo Silva started at center back, Tristan Blackmon made his third consecutive start at right back, and Lee Nguyen replaced Kaye at left midfield. Miller’s absence created the opportunity for Real Sociedad product Pablo Sisniega to make his first career start in net for LAFC as well.

With each team sporting new lineups that included players making their MLS debuts, the first seven minutes of action was spent erratically feeling each other out. RSL played with high pressure right from the first whistle and LAFC focused on controlling the middle. Suddenly, it paid off.

After Eduard Atuesta fought off pressure and won a loose ball inside the midfield circle, he sent a through ball towards the streaking Carlos Vela down the right side. Vela had the time and space to set up a shot with his favored left foot before the nearest defender closed in and curled home the opening goal inside the far post in the eighth minute.

Coming into the match, Atuesta was tied for fifth in the MLS for most assists on the season with six before tonight. This is good for second-best on the team behind none other than goals-scored leader Vela who also leads the league in assists with 10.

Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman was shown the game’s first yellow card when he chopped at the back of Latif Blessing’s left leg near midfield in the 19th minute. Blessing writhed in pain on the ground for over a minute but remained in the game.

Though Los Angeles had given themselves a lead, both teams still seemed to be playing timidly and continued to feel each other out. By the 24th minute, each team had only created one shot.

Sisniega was tested for the first time in the 25th minute. Real Salt Lake’s Everton Luiz sent a through ball to the feet of Corey Baird who found himself behind LAFC’s back line. Inside the box nearing the goal line, Baird crossed the ball across the ground over the six-yard box, but Sisniega confidently dove out to secure the ball before it reached its target.

Atuesta came back looking for his second assist of the game in the 31st minute when he sent a long ball from midfield leading Christian Ramirez. Now behind RSL’s back line, Ramirez settled the pass in front of him with the first touch and immediately tried to chip a shot over the charging Nick Rimando but it hit the near post and went out for a goal kick. Ramirez bent over in frustration.

Not a minute later, Vela again came down the right side and again went for the far post. This time, Rimando was quick to parry the shot aside. And though RSL seemed to be dealing with LAFC’s opportunities, Los Angeles was starting to dissect the Salt Lake formation and find more chances.

Another came in the 43rd minute when Vela laid off a nice ball for Ramirez inside the box. Ramirez had only Rimando to beat and one-timed the shot, but Rimando’s sliding charge blocked the ball out for LAFC’s third corner.

On the other hand, Salt Lake did not legitimately test Sisniega for the second time until the first minute of added time. A loose ball off of a free kick was controlled by RSL and another cross was sent deep into the box. Sisniega came off his line to knock the ball away, though it was not the cleanest of clearances.

LAFC went into halftime with a 1-0 lead off the back of a 55-45 possession advantage and a 5-3 shot advantage. Though Salt Lake created chances here and there, LAFC was clearly the better team through 45 minutes forcing RSL to concede five corner kicks while creating none of their own.

The second half immediately started with some tempers flaring. Real Salt Lake earned their second yellow card when Donny Toia took down Blessing with a clothesline just three minutes into the half.

The yellow card-worthy tackles on Blessing would not stop there. In the 55th minute, Blessing turned and carried the ball into the attacking third. Trying to catch up, Everton Luiz slid into Blessing from behind with no chance to get the ball. The tackle was so late that Luiz was lucky to walk away with RSL’s third yellow.

Sisniega faced his toughest challenges yet in the 59th minute when Salt Lake earned just their second corner of the game. The following cross was tightly curled in towards the six-yard line and Sisniega came out. This time, Sisniega’s cleanly and confidently punched the ball 15 yards clear of the 18-yard line.

A minute later, Sisniega faced his first real shot. RSL’s Andrew Brody curled a cross in from the right side of the box. The ball flew over all of LAFC’s defenders towards the back post where Tate Schmitt put it on goal on the one-time. Following the ball, Sisniega shuffled across the goal line and instinctively stuck out his right foot to parry Schmitt’s shot aside.

Sisniega’s first career save proved to be timely as Lee Nguyen gave Los Angeles that coveted two-goal lead in the 64th minute. Blessing played a pass from near the circle towards Ramirez who was shielding off a defender. Instead of receiving Blessing’s pass, Ramirez used his body to let the ball roll by and continue towards the feet of an overlapping Nguyen. With only Rimando to beat in the middle of the box, Nguyen slotted home his first goal of the season in the bottom right corner.

Though LAFC earned a security goal, Real Salt Lake did not let up. After two midfield substitutions in the 78th minute, RSL earned a free kick in Los Angeles’ half two minutes later. The ensuing ball was sent into the box where an unmarked Marcelo Silva would be first to the ball, but headed the shot right over the crossbar. As scary as the moment was, Silva’s run was immediately whistled for being offside.

Another RSL opportunity was forming in the 86th minute in the form of a counterattack. A leading pass was played past LAFC’s back line, but Danilo Silva impressively tracked back and slid cleanly to knock the ball away before Salt Lake could continue the break.

By this time, head coach Bob Bradley felt comfortable enough to make his first two substitutions of the game. Adama Diomande replaced Ramirez and El Salvadoran international Rodolfo Zelaya played his first minutes for LAFC after replacing Nguyen.

By extra time, LAFC had the win secured. But the goals did not stop there. Blessing again earned a free kick in the attacking third and Zelaya took the free kick with a blistering shot towards the left post. Rimando dove and got just enough of a touch off the bouncing shot to push it off the post, but an unmarked Diomande crashed the goal and buried the resulting rebound for his fourth goal of the season.

Los Angeles Football Club knew they were going into Tuesday’s match undermanned, but so did Real Salt Lake. It was not the dominating win earned early on in the game that we are so used to seeing from a full strength LAFC, but to come away with a three-goal victory with three key players away on international duty certainly earns confidence in the team’s depth.

Danilo Silva put in his first convincing performance of the year. Nguyen scored his first goal and controlled the midfield along with Atuesta. Blackmon turned in his third consecutive strong outing. And Sisniega played as confident as anyone could ask out of a backup goalkeeper, earning a shutout. With LAFC poised to be favorites to win the Supporters’ Shield and the MLS Cup, it is very comforting knowing they have legitimate depth ready to be deployed at any given time.

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