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Real Salt Lake vs. Houston Dynamo - Match Preview

Well it is time to put the injury and funk behind us and move on to Houston.  Real Salt Lake enter the match as the only team in MLS with 5 wins, and they will look to continue their home MLS steak on Saturday night.  Houston comes in with just 1 win in their last 3 matches and are 0-1-3 on the road so far this year, that lone loss came last week as they were beat 2-1 by Toronto FC.

Houston comes to Rio Tinto with a overall 3-3-3 record, which is good enough for 4th place in the Eastern Conference, they are lead in scoring by rookie WIll Bruin with 4 goals and 1 assist.  He had his coming out party against DC United a few weeks ago when he got a hat trick as Houston won the match 4-1, his other goal came against Vancouver.  I believe he will find the RSL defense to be a bit more robust than either of those teams.  I expected big things this year from Cam Weaver, and so far he has been a solid player with 3 goals in 600 minutes of playing time.  I think the biggest surprise on the Dynamo roster this year has been Tally Hall, while he is no rookie he isn't exactly a veteran in goal either.  I think his match against New York on week 3 was a very impressive way to announce his arrival to the rest of MLS, since then he good but in each of their last two matches they have given up 2 goals, after not giving up more than 1 in their first 7.

Real Salt Lake is left with a hole in the midfield from the injury to Javier Morales, and while no player can fill his shoes, the team will move on as it has to, there are plenty of options for RSL.  Do they simply move Andy Williams to that position?  Allow 2nd year player Collen Warner a shot at the spot?  Maybe bring over Arturo Avlarez, or do they adjust their overall formations, oh there are a lot of questions that won't be answered until the lineup sheets are turned in prior to the match.  As big as the questions left by Javi's injury, perhaps an even bigger question is will Alvaro Saborio get his first MLS goal of the season?  He has been slowly recovering from off season knee surgery and is clearly not back to 100% but each week he seems to be getting closer, will this be the weekend he finds the back of the net?

more after the jump:

Key Match Ups:

Johnson & Grabavoy vs. Davis & Watson

The Houston attack is created in large part by their two midfielders who play on the wings of their formation, Brad Davis is simply one of the very best delivery men in all of MLS.  Few players can cross a ball in with the accuracy he can, of the 13 goals that Houston have scored this year he has the assist on 6 of them.  He simply is one of the best in the league year in and year out.  On the other side of their formation is a guy you probably haven't heard of Je-Vaughn Watson, heck he is so new that he didn't even make it into the Dynamo media guide this year.  The 27 year old Jamaican international is an imposing player, at 6'1" he is strong and quick and while he has only played in 4 matches for the Dynamo since joining the team, I think he could be the perfect complement to Davis.  I thought he was one of the better Dynamo players last weekend against TFC and he could prove a handful for the RSL midfield and defense on Saturday night and he did have the assist on their lone goal.

There may not be many players on any MLS team who work harder than do Ned Grabavoy and Will Johnson, they will play where ever they are asked, they will fight for every 50-50 ball and both maintain a high level of fitness that allows them to go 90 minutes at full steam.  Both are capable of launching great shots from distance as well as putting themselves in position to clean up others missed chances (see Will's goal last weekend), their real strengths in the RSL lineup have been primarily defensive ones.  However with Javi being gone, I fully expect that one or both of them will step up to boost the offensive effort of RSL's attack.  They will be challenged to keep the outside backs of Houston in check, but it should make for a very entertaining battle to watch.  Last week I picked Will Johnson as the guy who might just provide a surprise moment for RSL and sure enough despite tragic circumstances he did.  I am going to go out on a limb and predict that one of these guys will find themselves in a position to make a huge game changing moment on Saturday night.

The "funk" vs. expectations

For Real Salt Lake, Saturday will present two opponents that they must deal with.  It is easy to game plan against Houston, you can watch tape of them, and you know most of their players.  Yup, the Dynamo are easy to get ready for, compared to the other opponent that RSL will face.  The other opponent is the funk,  and I believe that Jason was right after the Chivas match last weekend to say that RSL despite some good results have been in this funk (or at least most of the starters) since the LA Galaxy match.  The most evident aspects of the funk are easy to see, a 1-0 loss at home to Monterrey in the Champions League final, a match billed as the biggest in MLS history, then just 3 days later your first loss of the season as you lose to expansion side Portland, again 1-0, and then despite the 1-0 final score against Chivas last weekend you lose Javier Morales with what will likely be a season ending injury.  Man that is a lot of emotion, a lot of funk to deal with.

So how did the RSL staff respond?  They gave the guys a couple extra days off to decompress as the season has already been a very busy one.  While the team may only have played 6 league matches, they have also played in 6 Champions League matches, not even the Galaxy have played in that many matches this year.  So a couple days off was probably a really smart move, but now they must get back to the business at hand, and the expectations.  Before the MLS season started Real Salt Lake had a lot of expectations being put on them, a lot by themselves, others by fans, and a huge amount by the media that cover soccer.  Now they must decide if they are going to beat back this funk, beat back the disappointments and get back to fulfilling the expectations.  Even without Javier Morales, this is a very talented team, and now it is the time for that to show again.  We need that team that came out and as Kyle Beckerman put it "if you come into our house, you better be ready to be punched in the nose", no that doesn't mean to expect a fight, it means you better come ready to battle for 90 minutes against one of the most talented sides in MLS and a stadium full of some of the best fans the league has to offer.  It is that attitude that RSL need to get back on Saturday night, no matter the result on the pitch.

Wildcards:

Will Bruin -

Well you never know what you are going to get with a rookie, and that risk is even greater when they are a forward.  Will Bruin has at times looked like a seasoned vet, with all the skills to replace the aging Brian Ching.  Then there have been moments where he looks like, well,  a rookie, out of position, distracted, and the question for both the Dynamo and RSL staffs is which one will show up on Saturday night?

Collen Warner -

He may not get the start as Javier Morales' replacement in this match, but I would expect that you will see him get into the match at some point.   He will be a player that RSL has to break their mold with, the usual wait 3 years before expecting rookies to play or make an impact, is a great thing in theory but with the injury to Javi and pending Gold Cup call ups it is clear that 2nd year player will be asked to fill a much larger role than what would normally be expected.  I think Collen is not only going to embrace the chance, but I think he will excel.  I think if RSL fans want to know what Collen can bring you only need to look back to last year in the Champions League match at Rio Tinto when Cruz Azul came to town.  Collen stepped up and showed that he could be the offensive play maker for RSL against a world class opponent.  Sure he made a few mistakes but the overall effort was great and RSL got a big win, then you could look at RSL's trip to New England this year and the 2-0 win in which the lineup was largely RSL reserves.  Collen again was able to help RSL establish the pace the match would be played at and to hold possession in our favor, oh yeah and he got two assists on the night as well.

Ricardo Salazar -

 Oh yes RSL fans know that name, and most of them cringe when they hear it.  Who am I kidding most MLS fans now cringe when they hear the name of any officials, it has been that kind of a season so far.  I as always list the official as a wildcard and my only hope is that however they call the match that they call it the same for both sides.  Here are the numbers on Ricardo, in 128 matches, he has called an average of 26.9 fouls per match, issued an average of 3.5 yellow cards.  39 times he has shown a player a red card and 49 times he has pointed to the PK spot.

My Prediction:

Well if history tells us anything about this matchup it is that Houston will likely not get a win, they are 1-3-3 in Utah and their lone win came back at Rice Eccles.  Last year RSL got a 3-1 win at home after a early goal by Robbie Findley and then two by Saborio, the lone Dynamo goal came from Brian Mullan.  I think it is interesting that neither Fabian Espindola or Andy Williams have ever scored against Houston, and I think one of them will join Sabo in getting a goal on Saturday night.  I expect RSL to break out of their funk a bit with a 2-1 win, I don't expect a full 90 minute magic match match like we saw against LA, but I do think we will see the team rally together and find a way to get it done.

OFF MY SOAPBOX