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Real Salt Lake-Dynamo Preview
The Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake each got a taste of meaningful success last season.
This season both are looking for more.
The Dynamo and Real Salt Lake appear to be in similar positions to begin the season and will start their respective campaigns for improvement against each other Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Both clubs experienced some significant highs in 2018 on which to build on this year, with Houston winning the U.S. Open Cup and Real Salt Lake getting a knockout round playoff win over Los Angeles FC.
But the Dynamo missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five years and Salt Lake qualified by a single point with the worst record of any playoff team in either conference.
Houston is led by a fearsome quartet of attackers that give opposing back lines nightmares. The most notable of those attacking players, 23-year-old Mauro Manotas, recently signed a contract extension to keep him with the team through the 2021 season.
"We have a top scorer, a player that is young and scores goals," third-year coach Wilmer Cabrera said. "Every team loves to have a top scorer."
The Colombian joined the Dynamo as a 19-year-old in 2015 and has steadily increased his scoring production since, becoming one of the top young stars in MLS with 19 goals last season.
Forward running mates Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto and Tomas Martinez, all of whom had at least 10 assists last season, will continue to feed the ball to Manotas and each other to fuel an attack that was fourth in the Western Conference with 58 goals.
Defense has long been the question for the Dynamo, and they'll look to new center backs Kiki Struna and Maynor Figueroa to stabilize things on the back end.
Real Salt Lake has also struggled defending in the past and will look to holding midfielder Everton Luiz, on a year-long loan from Serie A side SPAL, to ease the burden on the back four and develop chemistry with veteran midfielder Kyle Beckerman.
"Everton is the type of player that we feel can assist in helping us mature beyond being a competitive team and into one that challenges for bigger and better things," Salt Lake general manager Craig Waibel said.
Unlike Houston's established attacking four, Salt Lake's deep group of forwards is interchangeable, giving coach Mike Petke plenty of options but also some possible uncertainty.
Most intriguing among that group is Sam Johnson, who transferred from the top Norwegian league. Salt Lake is hoping Johnson is the true striker the team has craved and can provide stability at the position to allow Damir Kreilach, Albert Rusnak and Jefferson Savarino to return to the wing and attacking midfield.
Updated March 1, 2019