The Houston Dynamo will return to league action after getting a weekend off following their 2-0 home victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps. Owen Coyle produced an attacking friendly lineup which featured Giles Barnes, Will Bruin, and Erick "Cubo" Torres together for the first time. The match also saw Ricardo Clark, Raúl Rodríguez, and DaMarcus Beasley back in the lineup - though Beasley was forced to leave the match early after he aggravated a calf injury.
The Dynamo now eye Real Salt Lake, a team that bested them back in July 2-0. Things are now a little different as the Dynamo are a much stronger team at home while RSL struggles on the road. Real Salt Lake hit a few hiccups after their win over Houston and has slid all the way down the Western Conference table to the bottom while the Dynamo remain playoff hopeful.
In our preview of the match, we discussed the players returning from international duty and other matches to keep an eye on that are relevant to the Dynamo's playoff push, but we wanted to know about our competition so we spoke with Randal Serr of RSL Soapbox to get the scoop on Real Salt Lake.
Dynamo Theory: Road results have not been kind to Real Salt Lake this season as only 2 games away from Rio Tinto produced a full 3 points with the most recent 3 point road result coming from the Chicago Fire back in May. Why is a team that on paper looks very convincing struggling on the road?
RSL Soapbox: There are a lot of reasons, but nothing definitive. RSL has suffered a lot of injuries this year and undergone a lot of personnel changes both on the field and in the front office. This is also the first year that Jeff Cassar has really tried to put his stamp on the club with a formation change and a few tactical changes. The main reasons in my opinion are that many young players have been forced to play a lot of minutes on the road and don't have the experience to stay composed in a hostile environment. This leads to boneheaded mistakes which leads to silly goals conceded. The other reason is a lack of mental discipline. RSL has repeatedly shot themselves in the foot on the road whether it's through giving up penalties, earning red cards, or giving up late goals. Make no mistake this has not been the Real Salt Lake of years past that was tough to beat on the road or at home. Many fans blame the coach or the owner and believe it is a top down problem. It's probably a bit more complicated and nuanced than that, but it may very well be a factor.
Dynamo Theory: A lot has changed since the last meeting between our two teams. In our previous discussion we talked about consistency issues for RSL ultimately being about scoring rates related to the health of Joao Plata. Now that Plata is back have some consistency issues finally gone away, or have new issues become more apparent?
RSL Soapbox: RSL has had a bit of an easier time scoring now that Joao Plata and the other forwards are all healthy. Putting the ball in the net is not necessarily the problem at this point. The issue now is the inconsistent play on the defensive end. The defense has looked good in isolated games, but has not been able to string together a good performance for more than a couple games in a row. The most frustrating thing is that they are typically mistakes that come from inexperienced players. Hopefully it pays off in the long run, but at the moment it is getting old.
Dynamo Theory: Luke Mulholland and Tony Beltran will both miss out against the Dynamo due to yellow card accumulations. What kind of hole will they leave in the RSL lineup and how will Jeff Cassar adjust his squad to make up for their absences?
RSL Soapbox: Tony Beltran has quite possibly been the most consistent player this year with regards to both the quality of play and being with the team all year long (i.e. no international call-ups or injuries.) So that will hurt, no doubt. He is as good at one-on-one defending as anyone in Major League Soccer. Luke Mulholland being out of the lineup will sting, but there are capable midfielders that bring other qualities. I don't have any inside sources, but I suspect that Luis Silva and Jordan Allen will see increased minutes in this one. Jordan Allen in particular has shown very well for himself this year when given extended minutes so he can help this team play well.
For my answers to Randal's excellent questions head over to RSL Soapbox to check them out!