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Steve Griffin, KSL, File

Real Salt Lake plays to 1-1 draw in season opener at Houston

By Sean Walker, KSL.com | Updated - Mar 2nd, 2019 @ 6:32pm | Posted - Mar 2nd, 2019 @ 6:18pm



HOUSTON — Real Salt Lake may be disappointed with its season-opening draw on the road in South Texas.

But remember: a point is a point, and Major League Soccer hosts a long season.

Albert Rusnak scored the first goal of the year for Real Salt Lake, but the host Houston Dynamo came back to earn a 1-1 draw Saturday afternoon in front of 16,827 fans at BBVA Compass Stadium.

RSL (0-0-1, 1 point) out-shot the Dynamo 14-8, including a 5-1 margin in shots on target.

"I thought that was a very mature point," RSL coach Mike Petke told sideline reporter Samantha Yarock after the match. "Building off last year, we dropped our line and made it very difficult for their strengths.

"Overall it’s a good point on the road and something to build on for next week at home."

The visitors piled up 10 shots at the break, putting on pressure even as they added to physicality. Salt Lake suffered three yellow cards in the first half, but none of that seemed to matter by the 40th minute.

That’s when Rusnak finished off a perfectly weighted through ball from Corey Baird from just inside the penalty box to give RSL a 1-0 lead just before the halftime break.

Houston played without most of its defense after it opens the season with a pair matches in CONCACAF Champions League. RSL looked to take advantage.

"We were in good blocks defensively, hard to break down, and scored an early goal," said RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who announced Friday that the 2019 season will be hist last. "That helped us out with the confidence.

“We would’ve wanted another goal, but we’re happy with the 1-1 result.”

But the Dynamo (0-1-1, 1 point) had a full-strength front line — and Mauro Manotas was more the capable of beating the RSL defense in the 62nd minute.

Manotas slid a right-footed redirecting ball just inside the near post and past goalkeeper Nick Rimando to leave the match at 1-1 early in the second half.

It was Houston’s first shot on target, according to Opta Stats.

The match marked the MLS debut of midfielder Everton Luiz, and Salt Lake's newest designated player Sam Johnson. The Liberian international Johnson made his debut as a substitute, replacing Baird in the 68th minute. The reigning MLS Rookie of the Year left with calf cramps.

"Everton brought a lot of bite, the back four did extremely well, but it’s tough to play here," Rimando said. "All in all, I think the fight was there, we worked together as a team, and we’ve got to build on this."

Pending Retirement

Johnson finished the match without a shot in 23 minutes, as well as a yellow card earned for a hard tackle in the third minute of stoppage time.

Boniek Garcia thought he gave Houston the lead in the 76th minute, but the Honduran international was waived offside by head referee Armando Villareal and confirmed by the video-assistant referee.

Real Salt Lake returns home next Saturday, March 9 against the Vancouver Whitecaps. But six of the club's first nine matches are on the road.

"We have 16 more games on the road," said Petke, whose side was among the worst in the league away from home a year ago. "Tonight was a good start. We have to get cleaner, obviously. But I thought for a defensive performance, the block was very good."

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