The Houston Dynamo close out their three game road trip (of sorts) with a visit to Sandy, UT to face Real Salt Lake with another chance to knock an opponent down a peg. Unlike their previous match, however, this one will be against a team that has yet to lose at home all season as they’ve managed to turn Rio Tinto stadium into a fortress. A glimmer of hope for the Dynamo is that RSL gets a draw almost as often as they do a win at home (8-0-6).
Unfortunately, their recent history at the RioT doesn’t bode well as Houston’s last point came back in 2011 with a 0 – 0 draw. Their last win in Utah was at the old Rice Eccles Stadium in 2007 thanks to a Stuart Holden goal.
The Dynamo are still without Tyler Deric and Agus due to injuries while RSL are missing defender Aaron Maund. In good news for the visitors, the constant thorn-in-the-side Javier Morales is recovering from a quad injury suffered in the team’s 1 – 0 loss in Portland last week and if he does play, it likely won’t be the whole match. Even without the talismanic midfielder, RSL’s other three attackers, Javier “Burrito” Martinez, Joao Plata and Yura Movsisyan have been one of the league’s best trios with 25 goals and 17 assists between them. Shutting them down will be incredibly difficult due to the very different ways each one attacks.
Movsisyan is in his second stint in Major League Soccer and his travels across Europe taught him many lessons. He’s come back more intelligent and dangerous in front of net than before, though still fully capable of using his size and physicality to get the best of defenders. Plata is still a speedster and crafty with his passes, able to both sneak behind a defender as well as sneak in passes through the smallest of holes between defenders. Martinez has shown himself to be a technical attacker that can find his teammates in a myriad of ways.
As of late, Jalil Anibaba has been stellar in central defense and is a strong candidate to do so again alongside Raul Rodriguez. Whomever pairs with the Spaniard, they’ll have to be very careful to keep the line in tact and not allow any offside traps to be broken, nor gaps to appear in the middle. If Houston does get any points in the game, it’ll likely come down to the communication between the center backs and defensive midfielder Collen Warner. Not necessarily because RSL will attack down the middle but because the trio will need to wrangle the outside backs who have been one of the team’s weaknesses this season. With DaMarcus Beasley coming back from injury, things should improve on both sides of the ball, though his lack of match fitness will mean he won’t be at his absolute best just yet.
On the flip side, midfielders Oscar Garcia and Alex are in top form, with the former coming off a two-assist game against Sporting KC while the Brazilian has scored in the past two matches. With Mauro Manotas starting to find his scoring shoes, any offensive help to lighten the load on the young Colombian’s shoulders is a boon. Don’t expect another offensive explosion from the Dynamo, however, as RSL has a tough defense to break down. It’ll likely come down to a couple chances created for the offensive corps to pounce on.
With Kyle Beckerman in the middle and Nick Rimando in goal, quality chances are going to be coming from out wide and have to be finished intelligently. Both are veterans of the highest quality and won’t be easily beaten by an offense that creates a lot of chances, but few that test a goalkeeper’s mettle. With Houston yet to earn a penalty kick this season, the chances of them trying to beat Rimando on one are extremely thin (though it’d be in line with the team’s luck to earn their first and have it saved).
To get points, the Dynamo have to get the ball wide and take apart RSL’s defenders from there. The one thing they have to chance is their service into the box. Too often the wingers and fullbacks loft their crosses into the box, but lack the center forward to pounce on them. There is no Brian Ching to win headers. Instead the Dynamo either need to quickly work the ball inwards and take their shots from the top of the box or keep their crosses low and to the feet of the striker. Manotas and Will Bruin are much better with the ball at their feet than their heads and this would give them maximum chance to beat Rimando with a well place one-time shot.
Even better would be a late run from Alex or Cristian Maidana to slam home a redirected pass.
Despite the team’s better play of late, it’s difficult to see Houston being one of the teams to get a draw at the RioT, much less a shock upset victory. RSL’s homestand in August saw them defeat Western Conference leaders FC Dallas and rival Colorado Rapids before a wild draw against LA Galaxy. Taking care of business against the Wooden Spoon contender should be academic. Despite some good defending, the attacking threat from RSL will be too much and finish 2 – 0.