SANDY, Utah — When Real Salt Lake got past the Wilmington Hammerheads by a 2-0 margin in Tuesday night’s US Open Cup Round of 16 matchup, it came as no surprise.
But when Tony Beltran scored the first goal of the game? Yes, that was a bit of a stunner.
After all, the versatile outside back had never scored in 69 league matches or in a host of other matches for RSL. But in the 40th minute, Beltran made a run to the right side of the penalty area, took a pass from Jean Alexandre and put the ball away at the near post.
“When you are in the moment like that it’s not so much you think about it, it’s much more instinctual,” Beltran told ESPN700 Sports radio in Salt Lake City. “The guys were giving me grief because I had the whole other side of the goal to work with, but I decided to put it near post and, fortunately, it went in.
“Yeah, it’s my first goal,” he added. “I put the hard one away.”
Head coach Jason Kreis called Beltran’s performance a “really, really strong game, all around.”
“He's putting multiple matches in a row where he's really at a high level, and has had quite a few chances to score already this season,” Kreis said. “So I'm glad that he finally got the monkey off his back a little bit, and I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up the season with a couple more.”
Beltran has emerged this season as a much more consistent player in a back-line rotation that includes Chris Wingert and veteran Robbie Russell. His defense has been superb, and now he is contributing more on the attacking end.
“I just feel more confident this year,” Beltran said. “I feel like that’s been a part of my game in years past [adding to the attack], but coming into the league — a lot of times — I don’t need to do that stuff. But this year I have felt more comfortable and more confident and so I’m able to take more risks in the final third and pull some stuff off.”
The one thing Beltran needs to work on? His goal celebration. But given his track record, that’s understandable.
“When it happened,” he said, “I didn’t really know what to do.”