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RSL vs. Houston preview: Knockouts beckon if RSL can't find win

RSL, without Javier Morales, will look to stay unbeaten at home this season when the Dynamo visit Rio Tinto Stadium.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake hosts the Houston Dynamo this weekend in a Western Conference match-up that sees Houston all but out of the playoff race. RSL should use this game as a way to grab three points in their quest to avoid a first-round knockout game.

Where they stand

Houston (5-11-11, 26 points) are sitting dead last in the Western Conference, a whole six points behind ninth-place Seattle Sounders. While the Dynamo aren’t mathematically out of the playoff hunt yet, they’re currently 12 points below the red line. Even with their two games in hand, it’s hard to imagine them having any real shot at qualifying this season.

RSL (12-9-8, 44 points), on the other hand, are firmly in fourth place for the moment just two points behind third-place Colorado, and three points behind second-place LA Galaxy. With a win against Houston this weekend — and some favors from Colorado’s and LA’s opponents — Salt Lake could potentially find themselves back in second place, with the league-leaders FC Dallas coming back to Rio Tinto next weekend.

Match history

This is the third and final meeting between these two teams, with each team winning a game a piece — both wins coming to the home side.

RSL notched a 2-1 win at home back on April 30th, while Houston got one right back two weeks later with a 1-0 win at BBVA Compass Stadium after the game was delayed overnight due to inclement weather.

Through 23 matches played in the all-time series, the Dynamo hold a slight advantage with a record of 10-8-5, although RSL has outscored the Texas side 35-31 overall.

Who’s in, who’s out

With Sunny receiving a one-game suspension from the MLS Disciplinary Committee for his challenge on Fandendo Adi last week in Portland, we’ll look to most likely see Luke Mulholland back in the starting lineup for the Claret-and-Cobalt.

Javier Morales will also be out for the game after coming off with an injury after only 20 minutes last week in Portland. We later found out it was a right quad injury, and Chris Kamrani of the Salt Lake Tribune recently confirmed that Javi will be missing the game.

So, who do we see start in Javi’s place? Last week saw Jordan Allen get the nod while Cassar chose to rest Morales for the first half of the game against the Timbers. While Allen struggled a bit at the number ten spot for 45 minutes, it’s likely we’ll see him get the start again against Houston, although Cassar could decide to mix it up and try someone else like Omar Holness or even Mulholland in the central attacking role.

The Dynamo are missing quite a few players, with Joe Willis doing the majority of the goalkeeping while Tyler Deric has been injured and/or out with red cards this season. It also looks like Andrew Wenger and two former RSL men David Horst and Abdoulie Mansally are all listed as questionable for this weekend, so it remains to be seen if they’ll see any time in the 18 on Saturday.

Playoff implications

As mentioned before, RSL could see themselves jump as high as second place with a win this weekend, but that’s only if Colorado loses to San Jose and LA loses to Sporting Kansas City. Both of those scenarios are not likely to happen, as the Rapids are hosting the Quakes at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park where they’re still unbeaten this season.

At any rate, Salt Lake can’t drop any lower in the standings this weekend, since they’re a full five points ahead of fifth-place Kansas City.

RSL expected lineup: Rimando; Phillips, Olave, Glad, Beltran; Mulholland, Allen, Beckerman; Plata, Movsisyan, Burrito

Houston expected lineup: Willis; Beasley, Anibaba, Rodriguez, Williams; Warner; Maidana, Alex, Clark, Boniek Garcia; Manotas