05 August 2013

RSL-Houston thoughts: More late drama or another scoreless draw?

Jason Kreis is hoping to avoid a third consecutive
stoppage-time defeat against Houston.
I’m back on the MLS airwaves this weekend with a chance to step in for Glenn Davis and call Saturday’s Real Salt Lake-Houston game on Comcast Sportsnet Plus in Houston. I’m really excited for just about every aspect of this broadcast: working with Eddie Robinson and the Comcast crew, calling a game with the dramatic backdrop provided by Rio Tinto Stadium, and of course the matchup itself.

It’s not a rivalry game in the traditional sense (no geographic ties or playoff matchups), but I’ve been at nine of the last 10 games between these teams, and they’ve all been intense. The reason, to me, is a simple one: Even among MLS head coaches, who have to be competitive by nature, head coaches Dominic Kinnear and Jason Kreis stand out as two of the most intensely competitive personalities in American soccer. Their teams are skilled, but physical, and games between these two have always been closely contested – out of 16 head-to-head contests, 14 have been decided by one goal or less.

Here are some early thoughts on the game:

Despite Houston’s dominance in the all-time series (8-3-5 all-time, 6-1-4 since August 2007), Salt Lake has to be considered the favorite on Saturday. RSL is tied for the Supporters’ Shield lead (38 points from 23 games), leads the league in goals per game (1.65), and has the league’s goals against average leader in Nick Rimando (0.89). More importantly, the game is in Utah, where RSL has a 3-1-4 all-time edge. Three of the last four games between the teams in Utah have finished 0-0 (2008, 2009, 2011), and the other was a resounding RSL win. For an idea of Houston’s perspective, the 2009 game was the very rare instance I can recall of Kinnear playing for a draw almost from the start (started in a 4-5-1 formation with Kei Kamara at right midfield).

On the other hand, Salt Lake might be vulnerable at the moment. It will be RSL’s third game in eight days, and if media quotes are to be believed, Wednesday’s Open Cup semifinal against Portland is considered a higher priority. Salt Lake's last two home games have seen them collect just one point, with a player ejected each time. And after an 11-game unbeaten run in all competitions, RSL is winless in its last three games, including two gutting stoppage-time losses.

Hmm, stoppage-time losses. Sounds familiar. Houston has beaten Salt Lake in their last two head-to-head meetings on goals in the 93rd and 94th minutes, respectively. After last year's Colin Clark PK, Jason Kreis had that classic, stone-faced, I-can't-believe-that-just-happened look, and we saw it again when RSL lost to New York on Saturday. But both teams actually have a flair for the dramatic. In the final 15 minutes of games this year, RSL leads MLS with 15 goals scored, but has allowed 9 goals (+6 goal differential). Houston is second-best in MLS with only 3 goals allowed and has scored 10 of its own (+7 goal differential). So we could see some dramatics on Saturday night. After all, the last time I called a Houston-Real Salt Lake game, this happened:

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