Streaky situation

By By Jon Gilbert

By Jon Gilbert

Saturday holds another opportunity for Real Salt Lake to lessen its deficit in the MLS standings in its race to make the playoffs.

RSL visits Houston on Saturday in a match-up between one club trying to edge its way into the playoff picture and another club trying to tighten its grip on the Western Conference lead.

Real did well to help itself by gaining six points in its last two matches. Victories over the Kansas City Wizards on Aug. 29 and the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sept. 1 put RSL’s playoff hopes within fathomable reach.

The club hopes to attain the goal it set for itself at the season’s beginning. Passing Los Angeles in the conference standings is a start, but Real must continue pressuring the top half of the West to stay alive.

Real now has the Colorado Rapids in its sights. With a 10-point lead over RSL, the Rapids cannot afford to get too comfortable — Real is itching for its first playoff appearance and Colorado is on the postseason bubble itself.

Houston’s issues vary from Salt Lake’s.

The Dynamo hope to end their current skid with a three-point decision over Real. Houston has gone 1-2-2 in its last five matches but has still managed to hold on to its lead in the Western Conference.

But that could change if Houston falters this weekend.

Chivas USA is drooling at the prospect of being even with Houston going into next week, which could be the case if the Dynamo loses Saturday.

Chivas’ win today against D.C. United combined with a Houston defeat by Real on Saturday would result in Houston and Chivas sharing the top spot in the West come Sunday morning.

Houston can prevent this by reversing the result of its last run-in with RSL.

When Real and Houston last met on Aug. 4 in Salt Lake City, RSL kicked off the Dynamo’s current slide by taking advantage of a tired visitor in a 1-0 shocker.

The match marked the fifth time that Houston had taken the pitch in a 14-day period which helped the bottom rung Real to upset the Dynamo.

The situation differs this time around.

Saturday’s contest is only the Dynamo’s third game in two weeks, so their legs should be fresher than they were on Aug. 4.

Houston is crisp, but this time Real has a much better offense than it did a month ago.

RSL has developed a noticeably improved ability in the offensive third in recent weeks. Real’s five goals in its last two matches equal its scoring total for the previous eight contests.

What’s more, four of the five goals were assisted. With nine total assists on the season, the offense seems to be clicking when it needs to most.

In the midst of a four-game road trip, savvy and efficient play on offense is of utmost importance. Flashes of these qualities fueled RSL’s comeback win against the Galaxy on Sept. 1.

The newfound prowess on offense can partially be attributed to Fabian Espindola, Javier Morales and Matias Mantilla. Real won back-to-back matches since the recently acquired Argentines were simultaneously inked into the starting lineup by head coach Jason Kreis.

The offensive improvement has also made the fine play of goalkeeper Nick Rimando recognizable. Rimando has saved a league-high 97 shots this season.

The keeper’s workload could be less than expected with Houston forward Brian Ching sidelined by a left calf strain. Ching — tied with Joseph Ngwenya for the team-lead in goals scored at seven — is not expected to suit up on Saturday.

A victory for RSL would establish the franchise’s first ever win-streak. Never before has Real won three games in a row.

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