HOUSTON — Real Salt Lake's struggles in Dallas through the years have been well documented, but they aren't just limited to one city in Texas. Houston has been an equally difficult place for RSL with zero wins and one tie in seven previous meetings.
For a team that's lost three of its last four, a trip to Houston tonight is hardly what RSL needs — especially with forecasted triple-digit temperatures for the 6:30 p.m. (MDT) kickoff.
Real Salt Lake has never really excelled in hot, humid conditions, but Jason Kreis is quick to point out RSL did earn its first tie in franchise history in Dallas earlier this year. Perhaps that's foreshadowing good things in Houston. Considering its recent struggles, a draw would be a fantastic result for RSL.
As is typically the case in extreme heat, possession is the key.
"If you're giving the ball away cheaply, you just can't run as much as you can somewhere else. You've got to keep the ball. You've got to keep your energy with the ball," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.
Real Salt Lake prefers to play a possession brand of soccer, but doing so in the heat has always been a challenge.
More than anything, Kreis said an attention to detail defensively — particularly in the box — is key.
"It's always an interesting affair there with the small field and the way they play. We know the ball is going to be in our box a lot. They want to get it there pretty darn quickly, and we've got to deal with runners in the box and we have to deal with their two strong forwards," said Kreis.
It must do so without Jamison Olave as well. The defender didn't travel with the team and will miss his fifth straight match because of the knee sprain he suffered in the MLS All-Star Game in late July. RSL is 1-3 without the reigning MLS Defender of the Year in the line-up.
Chris Schuler has started all four games at center back in Olave's place, but considering RSL's defensive struggles lately the coaching staff might be toying around with the idea of giving Rauwshan McKenzie an opportunity.
Will Johnson is another regular unavailable as he's suspended because of yellow card accumulation. Without Johnson or the injured Ned Grabavoy available, Kreis acknowledged that one of his more attacking-minded midfielders like Collen Warner or Andy Williams will need to take on a more of a defensive posture in Houston.
The Dynamo haven't won a game on the road all season, but they're 7-3-3 at home and they've only lost one match overall since mid-June. Knowing its opponent historically never plays well in extreme heat, expect Houston to put the visitors under heavy pressure early to try and snag an early goal.
One goal might be enough against an RSL team that hasn't scored on the road in 397 straight minutes dating back to Fabian Espindola's goal at Philadelphia in the 53rd minute on June 11.