Real Salt Lake continued their dominance over the Houston Dynamo on Saturday night with a 3-1 road win over the Texas club at BBVA Compass Stadium. It is the Utahns' fourth consecutive win over the Dynamo, and delivers a hammer blow to Houston's playoff chances while pumping life into their own.
Salt Lake took the lead just before the stroke of halftime, as Javier Morales put the visitors up from close range. After dominating the ball during the first half, Morales was in the right place amid a scrum of players and struck home the loose ball on the last kick of the half following a deflected Devon Sandoval shot.
Sandoval found the net himself on the other side of halftime with a goal that may have ended Houston’s season in earnest. After three chances for Houston in the half's opening moments, Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez had his 52nd-minute shot saved by Tyler Deric, but the rebound fell right to Sandoval and the big forward volleyed it past David Horst to take a 2-0 lead.
Fortunes turned for the Dynamo in the 62nd minute, as RSL substitute John Stertzer was whistled for a hand ball in the penalty box, giving Brad Davis a chance from the spot. Despite his sketchy history vs. goalkeeper Nick Rimando, Davis blasted his effort into the upper-left corner to cut the lead to 2-1.
The Dynamo's momentum did not last long, however.
Martinez beat Raúl Rodríguez on the run and buried a well-placed shot from a slim angle just three minutes after Davis’ goal to make it 3-1. The goal took the wind out of the Dynamo's sails and iced the win for the visitors.
The home loss lengthens Houston’s playoff odds, leaving them on 35 points. The win gives Salt Lake a glimmer of hope, but they too face an uphill battle, as both clubs sit six points back of the sixth and final postseason slot in the Western Conference.
Ricardo Clark made a bid to open the scoring in the 22nd minute, but Rimando showed his US national team pedigree with a clutch parry after Nathan Sturgis chipped a ball over the Salt Lake back line to the cutting Clark.
Joao Plata worked a give-and-go with Sandoval and shook loose in the box but his shot in the box was bested by Deric, who got low quick to keep the Ecuadorian off the board. After Sheanon Williams was shown a yellow card for a foul 20 yards away from goal, Morales showed his set-piece skill, curling a ball around the wall only to see it punched away by Deric.
Needing the win to stay alive in the playoff race, Houston went for it right out of the gates after the break. Barnes pushed the ball down the field after the second half kickoff and found Davis at the back post. His header was on target, but Rimando came up big with a quick stab to his left to deny his 2014 World Cup teammate an equalizer.
Instead it was Sandoval who pushed Salt Lake ahead early in the second half.
Rimando was needed often as the half progressed. Five minutes after Sandoval’s tally, Davis tested him from five yards out, as did Bruin. But in the end, Salt Lake held their lead.
Houston travel to face the Philadelphia Union next Sunday, while Salt Lake will travel directly to El Salvador for a midweek CONCACAF Champions League fixture versus Santa Tecia.
Houston Dynamo (9-11-8; 35 points) vs. Real Salt Lake (9-11-8; 35 points)
MLS regular season
September 12, 2015 – BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, Texas
Real Salt Lake: Javier Morales 7 (unassisted) 45 + 2
Real Salt Lake: Devon Sandoval 2 (unassisted) 51
Houston Dynamo: Brad Davis 3 (penalty) 65
Real Salt Lake: Juan Manuel Martínez 1 (Javier Morales 10) 68
Houston Dynamo: Tyler Deric; Sheanon Williams, David Horst, Raúl Rodríguez, A.J. Cochran (Mauro Manotas 80); Brad Davis ©, Ricardo Clark, Nathan Sturgis, Giles Barnes; Will Bruin, Erick Torres (Boniek García 46)
Substitutes Not Used: Joe Willis, Taylor Hunter, Alexander López, Leonel Miranda, Rasheed Olabiyi
Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Jordan Allen, Jámison Olave, Aaron Maund, Demar Phillips; Luis Silva (John Stertzer 28), Kyle Beckerman, Juan Manuel Martínez (Sebastian Saucedo 92), Javier Morales ©, Joao Plata (Olmes García 86); Devon Sandoval
Substitutes Not Used: Jeff Attinella, Abdoulie Mansally, Elías Vásquez, Luis Gil
HOU: Sheanon Williams (caution) 44
RSL: Jordan Allen (caution) 53
RSL: Aaron Maund (caution) 77
HOU: Raúl Rodríguez (caution) 85
HOU: Nathan Sturgis (caution) 88
Referee: Robert Sibiga
Assistant Referees: Ian Anderson, Eric Boria
Fourth Official: Ismail Elfath