Confident Real Salt Lake hoping to end Houston hex

Published: Sunday, May 11 2014 12:05 a.m. MDT

Real Salt Lake celebrates their second goal of a soccer game against Vancouver at the Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, April 26, 2014.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

Not that long ago, the talking point ahead of any Real Salt Lake vs. Houston match was always those maddening red cards. From 2007 to 2009, the teams combined for a staggering eight ejections whenever they played, which led to some wild and controversial finishes.

Lately though, the players — and refs — have been on their best behaviors with zero red cards the past four years. The lack of recent drama, and Houston’s move to the Eastern Conference in 2011, has taken some bite out of what used to be a fierce rivalry, but Sunday’s match (5 p.m., Ch. 30) in Texas should still be a dandy.

Both teams occupy second place in their respective conference, and RSL in particular is beaming with confidence after last week’s dramatic 3-2 comeback in Chicago.

“After the game, you almost felt a little bit like a kid again in youth soccer,” said midfielder Ned Grabavoy. “The way the game ended, scoring all the goals late to come back and win the game. I think some of us commented in the locker room that that’s maybe the most fun we’ve had in awhile.”

The stunning rally helped RSL remain the league’s last unbeaten team (4-0-5), but heading into Houston — a place the club has never won — the players know they can’t dig themselves another two-goal deficit.

“I don’t think we can afford to let Houston be up 2-0 at halftime this week. If we start off brightly, I think we’ll be able to hold our own down there and get a result,” said Luke Mulholland.

At the same time, Grabavoy said RSL will still look to be aggressive at BBVA Compass Stadium, to try to play its possession-oriented brand of soccer.

Coach Jeff Cassar cautioned, however, that playing too aggressive can be counter-productive.

“They’re not a team that presses too high. They sit back a little bit and get you when you’re not expecting it,” said Cassar.

Realistically though, nobody knows what to expect from the Dynamo, who’ve been an enigma in 2014. They started with two shutout wins, but then suffered through a six-game winless stretch that featured a pair of defensive debacles with four goals conceded. They’ve settled back down and won two straight, including a 1-0 win on Wednesday against Columbus.

“It’s always a challenge to get a result in Houston, and I think we know we’re going to have to keep the ball, there’s no doubt about it,” said Nat Borchers. “And we’re gonna have to at times sit in and absorb pressure, especially with the weather being like it is. You can’t go all out and be too aggressive cause you’ll lose your energy.”

Real Salt Lake’s record is 0-8-1 all-time in Houston, and the heat and humidity has no doubt played a role in past results. Sunday’s forecast calls for temperatures in the mid to upper 80s.

Sunday’s match will likely be the last in which RSL has the services of Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and Alvaro Saborio for approximately six weeks as they join their respective national teams to prepare for the World Cup in June.

“They’ve been great ambassadors for our club, on and off the field in our community. Every one here in the club is really happy for them,” said Cassar. “When they leave it’s an opportunity for someone to step in and take a new role in the team, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to watching them play with the national team during the World Cup, and guys stepping in and filling their void.”

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