The Houston Dynamo lineup experiment last week never had time to gain traction or be accurately evaluated given Tyler Deric's early red card. However, the team was able to prevent Crew SC from scoring after their penalty which is a start given Houston's leaky record and the Crew's man advantage. Now the Dynamo will face off against Real Salt Lake, a team that has bested Houston its last 4 matches. Houston will need to showcase its defensive tenacity that we saw a bit of against the Crew while bringing it on the offensive end as well.
In our preview of the match we discussed RSL's previous matches and the Dynamo's struggles, but we wanted to know more about our opposition this week so we spoke with Randal Serr of RSL Soapbox to gain insight about Real Salt Lake.
Dynamo Theory: The last few years Real Salt Lake has been one of the top clubs in the league, but last year fell to 9th place in the Western Conference. What are the expectations among the RSL faithful about how far this club can go and what would be considered a failed season?
RSL Soapbox: After a dismal season, the expectation that the fans have now is that it was a one off, hopefully nothing more than a blip on the radar. The RSL captain and U.S. Men's National Team member, Kyle Beckerman, has been repeating that in the media to reinforce a winning mentality. So that expectation didn't organically come from the fans, but from the face of the franchise. So far, except for last week against the Galaxy, RSL has looked substantially improved. They seem energized and determined not to repeat the mistakes of 2015. Their potential seems to be pretty high considering how good they have looked coming out of the gates. They took the Mexican champions to the wire and were it not for a saved PK in the second leg of CONCACAF, Salt Lake may very well have moved to the next round of the tournament. If RSL can make the Playoffs, much like with any MLS club, anything could happen in that crazy tournament.
Dynamo Theory: Real Salt Lake has always made Rio Tinto Stadium a fortress and this season in no different with 9 points coming from 3 games played in Sandy, Utah. What has made RSL so successful in front of their home crowd?
RSL Soapbox: This year they have made it clear that they need to get back to Rio Tinto Stadium being a fortress like in years past. That is why they are winning at home thus far. They are very focused on winning at home. Their work rate in front of their home fans is incredible to watch. It used to be that when other teams would come to Salt Lake City, they were very likely to sit back and absorb as opposed to trying to play an open game because they knew that was their best chance of getting at least a tie. RSL lost that swagger last year and one of their goals now is to win their games at home. Their though is if you do that and get some results on the road, you will make the MLS Playoffs. I tend to agree.
Dynamo Theory: For fans not familiar with RSL, who are some players that have helped turn the club around so quickly and what has helped them become effective?
RSL Soapbox: There are a handful of players that have helped turn the club around, if seven games are any indication. First, Juan Manuel "Burrito" Martinez came on towards the end of last year and we saw flashes of what he could do, but he has shifted into a higher gear this season. He came from Boca Juniors in Argentina and tied Lionel Messi in 2010 for Argentine Player of the Year. So he's the real deal. He really is a world class player. He's the kind of guy that can get around three defenders and create something out of nothing, and he's done just that multiple times so far. He has somehow managed to stay under the radar for the most part and we like it that way.
The next guy on the list is Stephen "Sunny" Sunday. He is a Nigerian player that has played for multiple clubs in Europe but the highlights of his career include coming through the Valencia CF system, playing for Spain's youth team alongside Juan Mata and Gerard Pique, and playing for the Nigerian National Team. He has a lot of skill on the ball but has a motor that does not stop. He makes some incredibly difficult, clean tackles and takes a lot of the weight off of Kyle Beckerman's shoulders. He is pure grit but has class as well.
Lastly, a healthy Joao Plata and the return of Yura Movsisyan have made RSL's front three one of the best in the league. Joao Plata was injured for most of the season last year and has played at the level of a MVP so far. Yura Movsisyan was making in the neighborhood of 10 million dollars a year in Russia before he came back, and he is a player that demands respect. He draws a lot of attention and frees up everyone else if they decide to focus on him. The chemistry between Plata, Movsisyan, and Martinez is really fun to watch and only improving with every passing game.
Projected Lineup: Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Aaron Maund, Justen Glad, Demar Phillips, Kyle Beckerman, Sunny Sunday, Javier Morales, Juan Manuel Martinez, Yura Movsisyan, Jordan Allen.
Predicted Outcome: You simply never know in MLS. I expect RSL to win since they are home though.
For my answers to Randal's questions please check out RSL Soapbox!