Preview: Houston vs. Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake's improbable playoff run last season may not have ended so successfully if it had to face the Houston Dynamo.
In a matchup of teams that came close to meeting in the 2009 MLS Cup, Salt Lake looks to earn its first win in eight games against the Dynamo on Thursday night.
Real beat Los Angeles in the MLS Cup despite finishing fifth in the Western Conference, eight points behind Houston. If the Dynamo hadn't lost to the Galaxy in the conference finals, they would have had every right to feel confident entering a title game with Salt Lake.
Houston is unbeaten in the teams' last seven matchups (4-0-3) dating to a 1-0 road loss Aug. 4, 2007. The Dynamo, playing their home opener after kicking off the season with a 1-1 tie against FC Dallas on Saturday, is 5-0-1 versus Real at Robertson Stadium.
"We're hoping to create a loud, enthusiastic home-field advantage," general manager Oliver Luck said.
The only time RSL earned a point on the road against Houston was a 1-1 tie June 20. The other five matchups were all decided by a one-goal margin.
Salt Lake struggled in road games last year, failing to win any of its first six en route to finishing 2-11-2 away from Rio Tinto Stadium during the regular season. Real, though, opened this season with a convincing road victory, beating San Jose 3-0 on Saturday night.
"The problem was all between the ears," coach Jason Kreis said. "I told the guys we wanted to ... establish a foundation."
Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales was named MLS player of the week after scoring two goals. He was limited to one goal and five assists in 2009 after posting a career-best six goals and 15 assists the previous season.
Real forward Fabian Espindola added a goal and an assist. Last season, Espindola had three goals and three assists in 22 games, including 17 starts.
Houston defender Mike Chabala had a strong season opener, scoring his first career goal. Midfielder Brad Davis had an assist on the play after tying for the league lead in that category with 12 last season.
Davis has one goal and eight assists in 13 games against Salt Lake. Houston needs Davis to remain steady after it lost midfielders Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark, who both signed overseas.
The Dynamo are expected to be without forward Cam Weaver (knee) and defender Eddie Robinson (hamstring). Weaver missed the season opener and Robinson was hurt in the 43rd minute.
Houston is 1-0-3 in home openers, tying the last three. The Dynamo went 8-1-6 at Robertson Stadium last season, outscoring opponents 23-13.