A win is a win

It may not count in the Major League Soccer standings, but Real Salt Lake will take a win any way it can get one.

During an eventful evening at Rice-Eccles Stadium that included a lengthy delay due to rolling lightning storms, RSL finally claimed its first U.S. Open Cup victory, defeating the Virginia Beach Mariners 2-1 in overtime.

For a club that hasn’t won in more than a month-dating back to the team’s June 3 victory over the Chicago Fire-any win is a welcome one. With the win, RSL advances to the fourth round of the Cup, where it will take on the Colorado Rapids on Aug. 2.

Of course, the victory didn’t come easily, as it took extra time to get it done against the Mariners, a member of the United Soccer League. Off a free kick from midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy, veteran forward Andy Williams scored what turned out to be the game-winner just three minutes into overtime. Williams drove a shot just inside the right goalpost from about 25 yards out, just past Virginia Beach goalkeeper Matt Nelson, to give RSL the lead and, effectively, the win.

“No team wants to go to overtime, but to come back and get the goal?that was a great goal by Andy Williams,” RSL head coach John Ellinger said. “It puts us into the next round. It is the depth of the roster that will help us through this.”

Williams doesn’t yet have a goal during the MLS’s 2006 regular season, but he found the right time to finally find the inside of the net.

“It felt great. I wish we could have gotten it before overtime, (but) we got the goal,” Williams said. “We defended well, and we came away with the win tonight?(The Mariners) held their own, and they give us a run for our money. They (the players) are coming out here to prove a point-that they want to be in this league.”

The Mariners, who at 5-4-6 are tied for second place in the USL, fought hard against their MLS counterparts, but couldn’t overcome RSL’s attack.

“They played well. My hat’s off to them,” Ellinger said. “They battled all the way to the end. They were still a bit dangerous at the end as well. Good credit to them.”

RSL got on the board first in the 28th minute, as speedy forward Jeff Cunningham finally overcame his recent struggles and scored on a penalty kick to give his team an early 1-0 lead.

However, fewer than 10 minutes later, Virginia Beach midfielder Tim O’Neill knotted things up at one goal apiece, taking a pass from teammate Alan Woods and ripping the game-tying goal just inside the RSL net.

“It was a great goal, great ball from the back, great diagonal run,” Virginia Beach head coach Jay Hoffman said. “He took it well, brought it down and stuck it away. I thought it was a very well-constructed goal.”

But despite hanging with RSL for most of the game, the Mariners couldn’t quite get over the hump, and it was RSL that came up with the big play.

“I thought we played alright. I was pretty pleased with the way we played?They get their second goal off a deflection, off of a free kick,” Hoffman said. “I think we certainly deserve better because I thought we played well. We sort of lost a little bit of our rhythm in the second half, and that sort of disturbs me.”

With RSL’s participation in the U.S. Open Cup on hold until early August, the team now shifts its focus back to the MLS season. The team travels north this weekend for a Friday night meeting with the New England Revolution (6-5-6), currently the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference with 24 points. The two clubs met just a few weeks ago, playing to a scoreless draw June 24 at Rice-Eccles Stadium. RSL (3-9-4) sits in last place in the West with 13 points and is in the midst of a five-match winless streak.

The Revolution is led by forward Taylor Twellman, who leads the club with seven goals, and midfielder Andy Dorman, who has notched five goals and seven assists thus far.