Friday, September 18, 2009

RSL Vs. Houston – Pregame Thoughts

As the season gets closer and closer to ending the urgency to get wins becomes greater and greater for teams that are still looking to lock up a spot in this years playoff’s. With as close as that race has been every point makes a huge difference and for a Real Salt Lake team currently at the bottom of a eleven team race for eight spots three points are desperately needed. It seems that each week the need to get a win increases and coming of a tie at home to Chicago this game could prove to be the one that carries Salt Lake into the post season and rescues the season, or it could be the final nail in a coffin that was formed in May when RSL managed just 2 points out of a possible 18.

Houston meanwhile is well on its way to the playoff’s for the fourth time in a row. Since moving to Houston they have never missed the playoffs and could be considered the cream of the crop out west for the MLS. No other team has been as consistent as them over the past four years. This year has been no different as they currently sit atop the western conference and are in contention once again for the supports shield. They have established this consistency by holding a terrific home field advantage which should once again come into play this weekend.

Houston is lead by a trio of USA National team members in Brian Ching, Stuart Holden, and Ricardo Clark and have also received valuable contributions from its bench with 16 different players having played over 500 minutes so far this season. Their defense is also arguably the best in the league, having conceded a mere 24 goals in 26 games they join Seattle as the only teams with a goal against average under 1.0 per game. Keeper Pat Onstat has manned the posts in all 26 of their games to date this season and has recorded nine shutouts to help Houston maintain their reputation as one of the best the league has to offer.

The one glimmer of hope for Salt Lake faithful is the suspension to Ricardo Clark that will keep him off the field this game. That suspension and the return of Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman, and Will Johnson who will all be on the field at the same time for RSL for the first time since they lost to New England nearly a month ago. Since that loss RSL has enjoyed a resurgence from Andy Williams playing in the middle and with the loss of Clint Mathis to an ankle injury last week Williams could see some significant time should RSL find itself in need of a goal at halftime. Yura Movsisyan’s return last week also can be heralded as a success and he will probably start this week over Pablo Campos who struggled against the physical Chicago defense. With the Dynamo known to play a similar hard nosed style Yura’s speed and strength should come in handy.

Normally a tie would be a great result when playing in Houston but chances for points are running out and Salt Lake needs to make a move now if they want to make the playoff’s. This game more than any other thus far will determine whether, as fans, we should plan on saving some vacation time this fall for the playoffs or if we should turn our attention to the BCS runs being attempted by the Utes and Cougars.