HOUSTON — Real Salt Lake started the Major League Soccer 2019 campaign the same way it had the previous three seasons: with a draw.
The 1-1 match, in which head coach Mike Petke featured a 4-2-3-1 formation to start the new season, earned a well-deserved road point for Real.
“Tonight was a good night,” Petke said. “We still have 16 games left on the road, but it was a good start. I think we have to get cleaner, obviously, but overall it was a good start.”
It was a game of little things that tested the RSL defense that last season was battered for 58 goals. Early on an incessant Houston offense kept the Salt Lake side on its heels. Three RSL defenders drew yellow inside the first half hour, yet keeper Nick Rimando and the line held the Dynamo scoreless.
RSL, though, began to find its footing just past the 20-minute mark. Over next 17 minutes, beginning with forward Corey Baird’s blast in the 23rd minute, Salt Lake was clearly the better side. RSL ripped off eight shots, forcing Dynamo keeper Joe Willis into keeping the game scoreless before midfielder Albert Rusnak found the back of the net just five minutes before the half.
Rusnak’s goal came courtesy of an aggressive Baird racing down the left flank. The reigning MLS Rookie of the Year delivered a service that found Rusnak splitting through the Dynamo defense. The third-year pro left little doubt as he buried it inside the far post and gave RSL the 1-0 lead in the 40th minute.
“I made a run to other side,” Rusnak said in describing his goal. “I think I was a bit lucky to get that touch. I don’t know if the two defenders hit each other or something happened, but I was so close I had to score the goal.”
Houston opened the second half putting Salt Lake on its heels once more, and this time it paid off. Dynamo defender Adam Lundqvist, beaten on the Rusnak goal, sent a cross into the box that found Houston forward Mauro Manotas. He tapped home the equalizer for his third goal in as many games in 2019.Comment on this story
“A little slip-up for us,” continued Petke in describing Manotas’ goal. “We had a little mix-up on our right side defensively that allowed the cross to come in.”
Three minutes after the Manotas goal, Willis came through again for the Dynamo, snaring a dangerous cross by Aaron Herrera intended for an unmarked Savarino.
Real went up a man in the 81st minute as Houston’s Matias Vera was sent off for a collection of yellow cards, but RSL could not find the game winner.
RSL returns to Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday, March 9, for its home opener against Western Conference foe Vancouver. Kickoff is slated for 4 p.m. MT.