- Ethan Gomberg

SANDY, UTAH – Over 16,000 came out to Rio Tinto tonight to watch the Houston Dynamo get a point in a very difficult away match against a RSL team in flux. Real Salt Lake, after losing its midfield star, Javier Morales, also walked away with a point despite questions over the starting lineup.

Houston Dynamo needed a result this evening to keep pace with other surging Eastern Conference rivals. Houston has lost their last 2 matches in terrible fashion. Losing to defending MLS Cup champions Colorado Rapids is one thing, but losing to a struggling Toronto FC was not what Houston skipper Dominic Kinnear had in mind.

Losing their past 2 matches by a combined 4-2 scoreline was a bad showing for a retooled Houston defense. Tonight was their chance to take advantage of RSL’s possible line-up miscues.

Real Salt Lake started tonight with a very different look. Star midfielder Javier Morales was sidelined for at least 4 months following that horrendous tackle last week and the forward corps has been struggling.

In place of usual starters Morales and Fabian Espindola, RSL head coach Jason Kreis went with sophomore midfielder Collen Warner and first year RSL forward Arturo Alvarez. When asked after the game how he felt replacing Morales, Warner said “It felt pretty good. I was really excited to get the chance to play and I thought that it went pretty well.”

Houston rookie forward Will Bruin was involved on both sides of some rough play. Bruin was shown a yellow in the 24th minute with a late hit on RSL defender Jamison Olave, and just minutes later RSL’s right back Robbie Russell was also carded for a foul on Bruin. But neither side made much with their chances. A strong tackle in the midfielder between Houston’s Corey Ashe and RSL’s Warner seemed to look more violent then it was. Apparently MLS observers and even referees are very sensitive with fouls.
The first half ended with RSL surging toward goal but Costa Rican Alvario Saborio was just wide with his shots.

The 2nd half started with no substitutions. Houston’s Collin Clark had a nice wide shot on RSL and almost immediately RSL’s Ned Grabavoy had similar near miss on the other end. This early exchange put a lot of pressure on the Houston defense. Warner said ““The game opened up a little bit (in the second half) for sure. We came out with the same energy and I thought they were a little bit tired.”

RSL, led by Saborio pumped a lot more in their offensive attack. Even with some snippy play, neither team could make their chances count. One thing that was made apparent early in the 2nd half is that Saborio and Houston’s pair of Bobby Boswell and Clark are not found of each other.

RSL’s Andy Williams came in for Warner in the 59th minute and immediately started making a difference.
Houston also made a few changes, bringing on Spaniard Sergio Koke and Jamaican JeVaughn Watson for Clark and Bruin to jumpstart the offense.

In the 72nd minute, after a Houston turn over, Alvarez had a nice attempt on goal for RSL but was only able to get a corner for RSL. Williams took the corner and although it was a tense moment for Houston, no goal came. Several times Ashe made it tough for RSL’s midfield and he worked well with Koke and Weaver but Nick Rimando and Olave were there on the occasions when Houston were looking to score. Speaking of Houston’s late offensive surge, midfielder Geoff Cameron said “The first half we held them strong and fought hard. Then in the second half we turned it on, possessed the ball and I thought we dominated most of the second half.”

RSL made an interesting sub by putting holding midfielder Jean Alexandre in for Arturo Alvarez, and Kreis elected to play him up top with Saborio. Alexandre, a Haitian international, played striker in college and RSL has no forwards on the bench. Apparently Kreis needed a change from what he saw coming from Alvarez. But Houston continued to push. By the 77th minute, Houston was able to get Hunter Freeman and Cam Weaver close to the goal, but the cross didn’t connect.

In the closing moments RSL traded Canadian dynamo Will Johnson in for seldom used Argentine Nelson Gonzalez. Gonzalez hasn’t seen minutes for RSL since last season, including preseason Champions League games. Houston used the lull in action to quickly resume and thrust forward. Fortunately for RSL Nat Borchers was there to bail them out. Speaking of almost letting the goal in late Borchers said “I think that it’s very important that we hold it down. I thought we gave them too many chances though. I like the games where Nick (Rimando) doesn’t have much to do. I think that he had a little too much to do in the second half, so we need to clean a few things up there.”

Minutes later Koke was very close with a nice shot but this time Rimando was there for the save. Wondering aloud why RSL let Houston back in the game late, coach Kreis said “I don’t think that collectively we defended quite as well. Certainly in the second half I saw quite a few of our players run out of gas.”

The Rio Tinto magic almost happened in the last minute of stoppage time, when RSL’s Williams clear shot almost made it in, but it did not materialize. The game ended in a 0-0 draw.

After the game Bruin said of Houston’s result; “We’re pleased, but we had our chances too. We thought we could have stole one or got one and came away with three points, but we didn’t give away, didn’t make any mistakes or give up stupid goals. So we’re happy with that, especially after two losses.”

RSL would say that they felt good not losing without Morales. Houston will feel good not to lose at Rio Tinto after losing 2 in a row. 1 point to both clubs means RSL tries to catch up with other Western conference leaders for the time being and Houston get within 1 of catching Philadelphia and the top Eastern standings.

Real Salt Lake:
Rimando, Russell, Olave, Borchers, Wingert, Grabavoy, Beckerman, Warner (Williams 60’), Johnson (Gonzalez 85’), Alvarez (Alexandre 74’), Saborio

Subs not used: Reynish, Beltran, Gil, Schuler

Discipline: Russell

Starting lineups: Hall, Freeman, Hainault, Boswell, Ashe, Clark (Watson 67’), Palmer, Cameron, Davis, Bruin (Koke 69’), Weaver (Garey 87’)

Subs not used: Deric, Chabala, Sarkodie, Taylor

Discipline: Bruin

Ref: Okulaja

Attendance: 16, 301
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