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Real Salt Lake's homecoming was supposed to be easier than this.
After nearly a month away from Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL returned home Tuesday night by winning on penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie with the Wilmington Hammerheads FC in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup competition.
RSL defeated Wilmington 3-1 in the shootout, with goals by Burrito Martinez, Joao Plata and Chris Wingert, the defender ending it.
"I knew where I wanted to go," Wingert said. "I tried to be patient with it and make sure I gave the goalie enough time to get out of the way and that was it."
Wilmington shot two penalties over the bar and Hammerheads captain Liam Miller's attempt was blocked wide by RSL goalkeeper Jeff Attinella before Wingert stepped up.
The Hammerheads were hardly minnows, nearly upending RSL's 8-2-0 record at home in U.S. Open Cup play and 5-1-0 record against lower-division sides.
Wilmington midfielder Mael Corboz got the Hammerheads on the score sheet in the 34th minute with a low, driving goal.
After a run down the right side, midfielder Austin Martz laid the ball off in the center of the box to Corboz, who sent it past Attinella.
RSL coach Jeff Cassar called the team's first half offense and composure "pedestrian."
"It took us 45 minutes to get our heads out of our butts and start to take this game seriously," Cassar said. "I'm really surprised at that because I would have not anticipated that's how we were going to start the game."
However, a few first half highlights came at the feet of Martinez.
The Argentine midfielder nearly chipped Wilmington goalkeeper John Smits in the 13th minute after a nice pass from Wingert. A second chance came in the form of a beautifully lofted pass in the 25th minute from Martinez into the path of Jordan Allen, but he whiffed on the shot.
After the break, Javier Morales nearly tied the game with a pass to Martinez, but his shot skimmed low and wide.
However, before RSL could find the equalizer, Wilmington padded the lead.
Midfielder Justin Moose played a backward pass just outside the box to Jeff Michaud, who launched it toward goal. The ball took a fluky deflection off of Moose's head and sailed past Attinella in the 59th minute.
"Obviously, we put ourselves in a bit of a hole, we weren't happy with the first half and then unlucky with the deflection," Wingert said. "But stuff happens and credit to the guys for hanging in there."
A 55th-minute substitution brought on Joao Plata and Yura Movsisyan, who sparked RSL's attack almost immediately.
Plata got one back in the 65th minute, launching a long-range laser to find the top left of the net past an outstretched Smits.
"When defenders fear the attacking players, they win a psychological battle. We have to be more threatening," Cassar said. "They started to impose their will on us in the first half and once we made some changes, the tides changed."
The RSL attack opened up and Morales nearly found the back of the net five minutes later.
As the minutes waned, Martinez came to the rescue again, sending in a scintillating curler that bounced past Smits to level the match at 2.
Back-to-back chances came in extra time from Plata, who rattled the crossbar on a free kick attempt and Movsisyan, who missed wide of the goal on a low shot after a screaming build up from Martinez.
Wilmington was quiet in extra time, content to absorb RSL's pressure and keep from conceding. Smits parried away the only real dangerous chance from Movsisyan in the 110th minute.
A foul atop the box gave Wilmington one last-gasp free kick at the end of the game, but Martz's shot was saved by Attinella.
With the next round of U.S. Open Cup play set to be announced after matchups are re-drawn Thursday and a date with the Portland Timbers Saturday, Cassar cautioned his team to ratchet up the intensity as the summer home slate begins.
"I love the response we had from halftime, but we have to learn from the way we started," the coach said. "In a big MLS game, it could have been worse."
R Real Salt Lake settles a game on penalty kicks for the first time since its 2013 MLS Cup loss to Sporting KC
• Forward Joao Plata becomes the first RSL player to score in three competitions this season (CONCACAF Champions League, MLS and U.S. Open Cup).
• RSL extends its home Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup record to 9-2-0 overall and 6-1-0 against lower-division teams.