Lost in a haze of transfers, voluntary hair loss (for a noble cause), and Saharan dust clouds, the week has moved on. There is, in fact, still a match this weekend - and no, it's not against the now Deuce-ified Sounders, which is the match that suddenly seems to have everyone's attention (that's next Saturday, guys). This Saturday at 8:30 pm Houston time, the Houston Dynamo travel to Rio Tinto Stadium to take on the current leaders in the race for the Supporters' Shield, Real Salt Lake.
This is not a match that anybody should be looking past, yet people seem to be doing exactly that. Whether it be the Clint Dempsey saga, the wish to see recent transfer Alex Lopez in action, or just the simple fact that this is not an intra-conference match, a lot of people seem to be writing this off. Personally, I don't understand why - RSL are a great side to watch, they have loads of talent, and most importantly, it's worth three points. This time of year, you can't look past any chance for points, especially when you can get them at the expense of a team you're chasing.
I said earlier this week that I'm not altogether certain the Dynamo should try and make a late season run for the Shield. Would it be nice to win it? Sure. Would the advantage of possibly playing for the MLS Cup at BBVA Compass be worth trying for? Look back at the last two seasons and answer that for yourself. Would it exhaust the players we need most for a run deep into the playoffs? That's possible too, and it is a legitimate downside.
But whatever you think of these merits, Saturday's goal stays the same. The Dynamo need points - if not to race up the table, then at least to keep pace with it. Granted, Rio Tinto isn't the easiest place to walk into and win at, but that doesn't mean that we should automatically write off this match. You take whatever points you can grab, and hope that come the end of October, it's enough. And guess what? There are points up for grabs in Salt Lake City.
Now, the Dynamo do have the advantage of rest, as RSL played in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup Wednesday night, beating Portland 2-1. Seven of the eleven starters for that match also started in Real Salt Lake's 2-2 draw with Colorado last Saturday, so there may be a hint of fatigue for some of them - though to be honest, I doubt that will affect the likes of Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, and Alvaro Saborio. RSL didn't claw their way to the top of the table by not being good, and the best sides are going to play tough, no matter whether their previous match was last night or last month.
While their schedule will certainly be cluttered in a couple of weeks, the Dynamo did not play a midweek match this week, and so their starters should be at least a little bit more rested. While the injury woes of Omar Cummings continue, Andrew Driver and Ricardo Clark are possibles for Saturday, with Rico probably more so than Driver - though Dom Kinnear has said he's hopeful that both will travel. This week's acquisition, Lopez, will, of course not be in the mix - though Boniek Garcia, the Dynamo's other Honduran (gotta get used to writing that) will hope to build on last week's solid performance, which won him a spot on the Team of the Week.
Dynamo keeper Tally Hall has been quite solid this season, and it will be interesting to watch him take the pitch against Rimando, who is considered a rival for a spot on the U.S. National squad come Brazil next summer. Rimando has gotten more fanfare (and a Gold Cup title) this season, though Hall's stats in league play aren't that far behind. While most fans don't go to a match to see the keepers do battle (and indeed, they rarely - if ever - approach each other over the course of a match), it is another subplot to keep in mind.
Both keepers will have to stop the firepower that each side can bring to bear. Much has been made of the Dynamo's striker woes, but the fact is that so far this season, eight different Dynamo players have scored - and all eight have scored multiple times, meaning that unlike in other years, the Dynamo attack is not as cut and dry as it used to be. That being said, the RSL attack is much more potent. They've scored the most goals this season, and they've spread the wealth - five players (Saborio, Javier Morales, Olmes Garcia, Robbie Findley, and Ned Grabavoy) have five or more goals. Those are numbers that can't be explained just by pointing to the number of matches played (RSL have played two more than the Dynamo).
Thankfully for Houston, though, their back line is more stable, personnel-wise. They still have an alarming tendency to get beat in the open, but they're not conceding many goals, and their cohesion means that many of those mishaps are cleaned up before they can cause too much trouble. The play of the Dynamo back four will be very, very important - Hall is a good keeper, but it's better not to let the opposition get too many chances to test him (and this is something that Ricardo Clark, if healthy, should help with).
Salt Lake has never been the easiest place for the Dynamo to play (they have an all time record of 1-3-4 there), but that doesn't mean that it's hopeless. They've never been the best road side, but the Dynamo have gone on the road and gotten some impressive results. Then again, they've also gone out and had a few road matches that made fans want to ram their heads through a wall. Hopefully, Saturday night's match has more of the former than the latter - but only ninety minutes of soccer will tell us whether or not this will be true.