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Sandy • Defender Tony Beltran has toiled for Real Salt Lake for three years, ever the promising young player working almost anonymously as part of a three-man rotation at outside back.
Finally, he has a tangible reward.
The former No. 3 pick of the MLS SuperDraft scored the first goal of his professional career to lead RSL to a lopsided 2-0 victory over the minor-league Wilmington (N.C.) Hammerheads in front of 7,620 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium on Tuesday night, lifting the club into the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup for the first time.
"That's the most important thing to come from tonight," Beltran said.
That's because winning the U.S. Open Cup the annual tournament is open to teams of all levels would deliver RSL another berth into the CONCACAF Champions League, and coach Jason Kreis said the team will put "massive emphasis" on winning three more games to hoist the trophy.
But RSL must meet FC Dallas on the road in the quarterfinals July 12, just three days after the Hoops play a Major League Soccer regular-season game at Rio Tinto Stadium. RSL has never beaten the Hoops on the road, though it finally took a point for the first time with a scoreless draw on their last visit.
"We have to win down there some time," RSL's Will Johnson said. "This would be a good time to get our first win down there."
The Hoops advanced to the quarterfinals with a 3-2 victory over minor-league Orlando City on Tuesday night, scoring the winning goal in stoppage time just moments after allowing an equalizer.
Meanwhile, RSL endured no such drama.
Its game was lopsided almost from the start, with RSL showing its class against the Hammerheads a third-division team that did not even play last season after its former owner failed to meet certain financial obligations to the United Soccer Leagues.
But it really burst open at the end of the first half.
Taking a sublime pass from forward Jean Alexandre on the right side, Beltran slotted his shot from a hard angle on the right side off the near post and past goalkeeper Kyle Polak in the 40th minute.
"When it happened, I didn't really know what to do" to celebrate, Beltran said. "I hadn't really prepared something. So maybe next time I'll have something prepared."
Just a few minutes later, Alexandre doubled the margin to 2-0 with an easy finish inside the box, and RSL cruised home.
The team fired away throughout the game, and could have won by far more had it not hit both the post and the crossbar, missed by inches on several chances and watched Polak come up with a few impressive saves.
"It wasn't a perfect game," Kreis said. "It wasn't the game that I think any of us walk out of here and are ecstatic about. But we got the job done."
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R IN SHORT • RSL advances to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup with a 2-0 win over the minor league Wilmington Hammerheads.
KEY STAT • RSL outshoots the Hammerheads 18-6, including 9-1 in the second half.
KEY MOMENT • Defender Tony Beltran scores the first goal of his RSL career in the 40th minute.