Houston moves closer to West supremacy with win over RSL

By By Jon Gilbert

By Jon Gilbert

With the top spot in the West still up in the air, Houston took a huge step toward that prize by defeating Real Salt Lake 1-0 Monday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium. A strong defensive effort by both clubs led to the low scoring affair.

In the 66th minute, Stuart Holden received a pass from Richard Mulrooney setting him up in space to the right from 25 yards out. Holden steadied and fired the ball to the far post. RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando leapt in the air, getting a hand on the shot, but it was not enough to make a save and Houston took a 1-0 lead.

“There was nothing Nick (Rimando) could have done about that,” Eddie Pope said.The lead remained until the final whistle, leaving Houston only one point behind Chivas USA in the Western Conference standings.

Real had its chance to answer a few minutes later.

In the 74th minute, Kyle Beckerman won a loose ball and gave it off to Alecko Eskandarian. Eskandarian moved it forward with Beckerman on his left and Yura Movsysian on his right. Eskandarian played the ball to Beckerman who was tripped just outside the penalty box by Eddie Robinson. Robinson was sent off by Referee Tim Weyland.

Beckerman stepped up for the free kick, which he drilled along the ground to the near, left post. Dynamo netminder Pat Onstad was out of position, but Mulrooney wisely guarded the post and cleared the shot.

Real played a man up for a short while as the red card was shown to Movsysian in the 77th minute. The forward instigated a scuffle that involved several players following a corner kick.

The match finished with only 20 players on the pitch.

Both teams created chances, but Holden’s bomb was the only shot to mark the scoreboard.

Brian Mullan and Holden came within a foot of combining for the first goalof the match in the 65th minute. Mullan chipped forward a pass to Holden who got his head to the ball between two RSL defenders, but Rimando punched the shot just over the crossbar.

Real’s first viable opportunity came in the 17th minute when Chris Wingert possessed the ball near the right boundary. He sent a dangerous cross to the middle with teammates in the area but Onstad knocked the ball away.

Mullan gave Houston its two best chances of the first half. In the 27th minute, Mullan worked the right side of the RSL defense, eventually creating space. Rimando, however, smothered Mullan’s cross.

Ten minutes later, Mullan employed similar tactics on the right side, juking his man before grazing the crossbar with his strike.

Houston yet again found itself on the attack in the 49th minute.

Richard Mulrooney created a scare for RSL when he streaked up the right side with a step on the nearest defender. Rimando exited the goal to meet him fifteen feet out where Rimando was able to deflect the shot back into Mulrooney off whom the ball sputtered out of bounds.

Only two minutes later, Joseph Ngwenya almost gave his club the advantage when a rebound found his feet. With the ball at the top of the box and Rimando way out of the goal and helpless on the play, Ngwenya’s shot sailed wide left to keep the match scoreless.

Movsysian nearly changed that in the 52nd minute. Cutting through the Dynamo defense, Movsysian found his way left of goal with no one to beat but Onstad. Movsysian cut a shot across the ground to the far post. Onstad dove but could only watch the ball nearing the goal. However, the ball hit the post and rolled out of play.

Real could not claim victory in Pope’s final home game for RSL. The MLS legend is hanging up his cleats at season’s end.

“It’s bittersweet,” Pope said of playing the last home game of his career. “I’m going out on my own terms.”

Real will now set its sights on Colorado. The two clubs battle for the Rocky Mountain Cup on Oct. 20. A win would bring RSL its first trophy of its three-year life.

Although Head Coach Jason Kreis has toiled with his lineup of late in anticipation of next year, he is adamant that winning is all that matters in this match.

“The experimenting is over,” he said. “We’re going for the win in this one.”

Houston and Chivas square off in the season-ending match for both clubs on Oct. 20. A Houston win or a draw propels the Dynamo into the top spot since they have a 2-0 advantage in the season series.

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