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Recap: Real Salt Lake at Houston Dynamo

For the second year in a row Real Salt Lake began their year in Texas with a 1-1 draw.  But the 2018 result against FC Dallas had a much different feel than the 2019 result against Houston Dynamo.  In the closing stages of the 2018 opening match Real Salt Lake was on the back foot, fighting for the point they had.  But in the closing stages of the 2019 opening match Real Salt Lake were the aggressors.

There were a lot of question marks going into the match: what lineup would Mike Petke put out? How much of an advantage would Houston’s two Champions League matches give them?  Initially, it seemed like a typical Major League Soccer road performance for Real Salt Lake but they found their footing and the counter-attacks became more and more threatening.  Corey Baird switched out to the left wing, where he saw time with the US Men’s National Team in January, while Damir Kreilach played the role of striker yet again.  With Albert Rusnak pulling the strings in the midfield, Real Salt Lake began to press forward and finally broke through in the 40th minute when Corey Baird cut in from the left and found Albert Rusnak who nutmegged his defender before burying it in the bottom left corner.

Kyle Beckerman and Everton Luiz seemed to find their chemistry quickly but both earned yellow cards early in the match and put their stamp on the game.  Luiz seemed to be popping up everywhere on the field, while Beckerman held it down in front of the back four.  For having only played together for a couple of weeks the pair put on quite the show on the road in Houston.

Marcelo Silva and Nedum Onuoha also made an excellent pairing.  The two veterans in the center of the defense held it down in front of Nick Rimando, with help from their young wing-backs Brooks Lennon and Aaron Herrera.  Herrera, who had a breakout year in 2018, matched up well against veteran Alberth Elis but Brooks Lennon seemed to struggle a bit against Romell Quioto and Adam Lundqvist all night and in the 61st minute, Houston Dynamo found a way through when the ever-dangerous Mauro Manotas got in front of Nedum Onuoha to connect with Lundqvist’s cross and put it beyond Nick Rimando.

But what impressed me about this road performance from Real Salt Lake was the hunger for all three points.  A typical MLS road performance usually consists of the away team absorbing pressure and being content with one point, but this RSL team wanted all three and that was clear from Petke’s substitutions.  While he didn’t use all three available to him, Petke’s aggression in bringing on Sam Johnson and Joao Plata in the second half showed a strong fighting spirit.  Sam Johnson only saw about 25 minutes of play but he was quick and aggressive and will bring a style of play to this offense it hasn’t really been seen before.

Like I said earlier, this opening road result may be the same as it was last year, but it feels so much better.  As this group of players gets more time together I believe that even stronger road performances will come and I’m excited to see how deep this roster truly is.

Real Salt Lake’s home opener is this Saturday, March 9 against Vancouver Whitecaps.  The Whitecaps opened their season at home, losing 3-2 to Minnesota United.  Our coverage begins at 3PM on 101.5 & 105.5 The Eagle.

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