RSL Takes First Ever Win in Houston on Strength of Morales Hat Trick

Real Salt Lake entered BBVA Compass Stadium Sunday night as MLS’s lone unbeaten side.  With a 5-2 romp over a short-handed and 10-man Houston Dynamo team, RSL’s record will remain unblemished for at least another week.

Over the ten years of Real Salt Lake’s existence, the state of Texas has always been the team’s Waterloo.  But last year, RSL finally broke through in Dallas, and last night, the Claret-and-Cobalt ended a decade of futility in Houston.

Entering last night’s match, Real Salt Lake owned an abysmal 0-8-1 record in matches in Houston.  RSL’s poor showings in Houston have been due in no small part to the city’s hot and humid climate.  Nevertheless, RSL’s past struggles in Texas might also have created a self-fulfilling prophecy: an RSL team that expects to win every game in which it plays might have come to doubt its ability to earn a victory in Houston’s inhospitably warm conditions.  But this year’s matchup in Houston presented a unique opportunity.  Not only did RSL benefit from a visit to Houston during the cooler early part of the year, before temperatures soar to oppressive levels, but the Dynamo found themselves without the services of starting striker Will Bruin.

RSL literally wasted no time in grabbing an early lead.  Just 15 seconds after kickoff, Alvaro Saborio laid off a short pass to Javier Morales just outside the corner of the Houston penalty area.  Morales settled the pass, then chipped Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall, neatly placing the ball inside the far post for the 1-0 lead.

That lead was nearly doubled just moments later, as an RSL counterattack resulted in the ball coming to the feet of Saborio unmarked inside Houston’s box.  But Saborio was unable to muster the quality necessary to hit his shot around Hall, and the Houston goalkeeper’s save bounced back off Saborio before trickling over the endline for a goal kick.

RSL did net a second goal in the 17th minute.  Joao Plata’s corner kick found the head of Ned Grabavoy at the top of the Dynamo eighteen.  Grabavoy’s header would have been easily saved by Hall but for Morales’s redirection, which flicked the ball up and over the head of Hall and into the goal.

Houston pulled one back in the 22nd minute as Mark Sherrod, Bruin’s replacement and Dynamo hero-for-a-day, headed home Brad Davis’s corner kick.  But the reduced deficit was short-lived.  In the 27th minute, Houston’s Servando Carrasco was shown a straight red card for a rough tackle on Morales, and five minutes later, Alvaro Saborio headed home a sublime cross from Luke Mulholland to restore the away side’s two-goal cushion before halftime.

But even down to ten men, Houston refused to concede the result.  With renewed energy, the Dynamo actually controlled possession and created dangerous chances for the final fifteen minutes of the first half and the start of the second.  The pressure created a golden opportunity for the Dynamo in the 36th minute as RSL defender Aaron Maund, filling in for the injured Chris Schuler, was whistled for taking down Houston’s David Horst inside the box on a Dynamo corner.  But Giles Barnes’s ensuing penalty kick was poorly taken—and well-read by Nick Rimando—and RSL’s reliable backstop saved the attempt.

Houston’s pressure ultimately paid off in the 56th minute, as Sherrod again punished RSL with a near-post blast from 12 yards out after a costly RSL turnover in the defensive third.  But Houston ultimately paid the price for pushing numbers forward in an attempt to grab an equalizer: a 78th minute counterattack saw Morales spring Mulholland into the Houston penalty area with an excellent through ball, and Mulholland calmly rounded a charging Tally Hall before tapping home the insurance goal.

RSL appeared to take full control of the game after Mulholland’s goal.  Real’s final goal came in the 89th minute as Morales completed his hat trick by converting a penalty kick earned by Devon Sandoval.  The RSL forward pounced on a rebound inside the six and was tackled by Tally Hall.  Sandoval ultimately poked home the loose ball, but center official Allen Chapman had already blown the whistle, unfortunately negating Sandoval’s advantage.

With the emphatic 5-2 victory in Houston—the first ever in team history—RSL (20 points) finds itself in second place in the early Supporters’ Shield race behind the Seattle Sounders (22 points), but having played one fewer game.

The Claret-and-Cobalt return home this Saturday for a clash against their Rocky Mountain Cup rivals, the Colorado Rapids.

Wrap-Up

  • Revenge.  Man.  It feels good once in a while.  The last time RSL went to BBVA Compass Stadium, September 6, 2012, they lost 1-0 on a stoppage time penalty kick.  Nick Rimando had already saved one PK in that game, but also committed the foul that resulted in the second (and decisive) penalty.  Rimando got a small measure of revenge in Houston by stopping yet another PK.
  • With his penalty save Sunday, Rimando has faced two penalty kicks this year and stopped both.  The man is a prodigious PK stopper.
  • I am an unabashed Javier Morales fan boy.  I’ve predicted him to score goals multiple times this year already without any luck, so seeing the dam burst on Sunday was wonderful.  The statistics bear out Javi’s role as RSL’s creator: through ten games, Javi leads the team in assists (4) and key passes (25; “key pass” means a pass that leads to a non-scoring shot).  That means Javi has created 29 shots on the season by his passing alone.  Now he has a trio of goals to go with his marvelous passing.
  • In spite of being down a man for about two-thirds of the game, Houston actually controlled significant portions of the match.  For the ten minute span from the 55th minute to the 65th minute, Houston actually maintained over 70% possession.  So how did RSL finally stem that bright orange tide?  At least in part it was due to a savvy substitution.  In the 74th minute, head coach Jeff Cassar subbed on Cole Grossman, the heir apparent to Kyle Beckerman’s claret-and-cobalt throne, for forward Joao Plata.  Without a doubt Luke Mulholland’s subsequent nail-in-the-coffin also killed much of the Dynamo’s motivation, but Grossman’s steady play in the midfield alongside Beckerman allowed RSL to regain control of the match.
  • On another possession-related note, through ten games played, RSL has average possession over 50% in almost every five-minute interval (e.g., minutes 0 to 5, 5 to 10, etc.).  Notably, RSL’s possession takes a significant dip from minutes 60 to 65, down to 42.3% on average.  I don’t fully know what to make of that drop-off.  It does coincide with the time RSL frequently makes its first substitutions (around the 60th minute), but to pin that big of a drop on a new player being on the field doesn’t seem to account for all of that -15.4% possession deficit.
  • Interesting little factoids, assuming my statistics are correct.  Of Joao Plata’s 17 shots on the season, he has put 12 shots on frame, or about 71%.  By comparison, Alvaro Saborio has put 13 of his 35 shots on target, or about 37%.  However, when Sabo puts a shot on goal, it is slightly more likely to go in (6 of 13, or 46%) than a Plata shot on goal (5 of 12, or 42%), although the difference is quite small.
  • RSL’s next match is the first leg of the Rocky Mountain Cup against the Colorado Rapids.  RSL lost possession of the Cup last year after drawing twice against Colorado and losing once.

(image courtesy of si.com)

Heath Waddingham

About Heath Waddingham

SLC-raised and BYU-educated. RSLTID.

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