Two teams, both unbeaten in their last four matches, will face off in a Western Conference match-up when Real Salt Lake plays host to the Houston Dynamo in what will be RSL’s third home game in a row.
History hasn’t been kind to RSL against Houston, as they’ve gone 8-12-5 overall in regular season play against the Texas side, including losses in the last three straight. RSL has managed to keep pace with them in goals, only being outscored 37-36 by the Dynamo.
However, Houston has only won twice in Salt Lake while the home side has taken full points in six of 12 matches played in the confines of Rio Tinto Stadium.
Real Salt Lake
Record: 7-12-4 (25 points)
Table: 8th place (west), 17th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.09 (19th in MLS)
Most goals: Yura Movsisyan & Joao Plata (6)
Most assists: Albert Rusnak (7)
RSL is coming off back-to-back draws at home as they battled to a deadlock with both Sporting Kansas City and Columbus Crew SC. Anxious to get back on track and salvage everything they can from their three-game home stand, they’ll look to steal the full three points against the Dynamo, and gain some much needed ground in the standings.
Climbing the ranks
Sitting in eighth place, RSL is just five points behind sixth-place Vancouver. We’ve already talked about what they need to do to make the playoffs, and beating Houston is at the top of the list right now. The Western Conference isn’t getting any easier — just 10 points separate sixth place from last place, and there are only 11 points in between RSL and first-place Kansas City. It’s going to be a photo finish, and it’s nearly impossible to accurately predict all six teams who will make it out of the regular season alive.
Eighth place is a pretty decent spot to be, considering 2017 has seen RSL hit the absolute bottom of the barrel. While they’re still in the middle of their ascent, after going unbeaten in their last four matches (two wins, two draws), things are looking up for the young squad as they continue to find their chemistry with the current lineup that Mike Petke has been fielding.
No lack in the attack
There has been a lot of talk about RSL’s front four, which has been solidified in recent games as Luis Silva, Jefferson Savarino, Joao Plata, and Albert Rusnak. RSL’s leader in assists, Rusnak, has been monstrous for the team in recent weeks as he’s been playing the playmaker role with such precision and fluidity, which is what fans have been waiting to see from the beginning of the season. Rusnak showed flashes of brilliance even when he first joined the team, but now that his adjustment period seems to be over, all bets are off.
Savarino, who joined the team midway through the season, already has himself three goals and three assists with showing no signs of slowing down. He won the starting spot on the right wing over Brooks Lennon and has proven that he can both give fantastic service to the center forward, as well as go at defenders one-on-one and put dangerous shots on frame at will. The young DP has a bright future, and we can only hope that it involves a lot of time spent in a Real Salt Lake uniform.
The usual absent suspects
In good news, there are no new or unexpected injuries to report. The injury list still consists of the guys who have been out for a while with long-term injuries, which includes Chad Barrett, Jordan Allen, Omar Holness, and Ricardo Velazco. Also making an appearance on the injury report are Matt Van Oekel with an ankle injury, and Demar Phillips with that nagging hamstring injury.
Luckily, in Phillips’ absence, Danny Acosta has been filling his shoes at left back beautifully, holding down his side on defense while also finding space on the flank to join the attack when the situation calls for it.
There are also no suspensions this week for Real Salt Lake.
Record: 9-7-6 (33 points)
Table: 3rd place (west), 8th place (overall)
Points per game: 1.5 (T-8th in MLS)
Most goals: Erick Torres (12)
Most assists: Alex (10)
Also unbeaten in their last four, Houston has found themselves in pretty good form recently, despite missing several key players due to international duty over the Gold Cup break. Erick “Cubo” Torres has been absolutely vital for them this season, as he’s finally had his best year in MLS since playing with Chivas USA back in the day. He’s sitting on 12 goals and two assists this year, and playing fantastically under coach Wilmer Cabrera.
Depth for days
With so many talented players on the squad, Cabrera is spoiled for choice in both the attacking and defending areas of the pitch. In addition to Cubo, they’ve got strong goal scorers in forwards Alberth Elis, Mauro Manotas, and Romell Quioto who have all scored multiple goals this season and have proven they’re up for the task at any given moment.
Backing them up in the midfield is the likes of Alex, Andrew Wenger, Jose Rodriguez, and Juan David Cabezas who have all scored at least one goal of their own. Alex is really the highlight of the Dynamo’s midfield, though, as he’s notched two goals and a whopping 10 assists on the season.
Even with veteran USMNT player DaMarcus Beasley and AJ DeLaGarza on their backline, Houston has had their fair share of defensive struggles, giving up 32 goals on the season while scoring 39, good for a goal differential of seven. The Dynamo defense has earned themselves three clean sheets this season, which shows signs of giving up easy goals in situations even when they shouldn’t be. This bodes well for RSL, who as of late, has been able to quickly punish teams for making silly defensive mistakes.
Despite their good recent form, saying that Houston has struggled on the road this season is an understatement. Only winning once, they’ve managed to scrape together six points away from home, adding three draws and seven losses through 11 games played on the road.
On the flip side, they’ve been excellent at home, unbeaten on the season with eight wins and three draws at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Nearly full strength
The injury list isn’t long for Houston, consisting of only two players. Defender George Malki tore his ACL back in March and will be out for the entire season, while midfielder Eric Alexander should be coming back soon from a right knee sprain he suffered back on May 6th.
Other than that, Houston has the benefit of fielding a full-strength lineup as Cabrera sees fit.
RSL: Rimando; Beltran, Glad, M Silva, Acosta; Sunny, Beckerman; Savarino, Rusnak, Plata; L Silva
HOU: Deric; DeLaGarza, Machado, Leonardo, Beasley; Clark, Cabezas, Alex; Elis, Torres, Quioto
OUT: Chad Barrett (knee), Jordan Allen (knee), Omar Holness (knee), Demar Phillips (hamstring), Matt Van Oekel (ankle), Ricardo Velazco (ankle)
OUT: George Malki (ACL)
QUESTIONABLE: Eric Alexander (knee)
When: Saturday, August 5, 8:00PM MT
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT
Weather: 88 degrees, clear skies
Broadcast: KMYU, ESPN 700, MLS Live
Referee: Chris Penso (2017: 66 yellow cards, 2 red cards, 6 penalties given)