Real Salt Lake opens the season with a scoreless draw in Houston

Missing a handful of key players, coach Pablo Mastroeni pleased to earn a point on the road

(Michael Wyke | AP) Houston Dynamo FC forward Corey Baird, left, loses his footing as Real Salt Lake midfielder Damir Kreilach, right, takes the ball during the first half of an MLS soccer match Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in Houston.

Real Salt Lake began a new era with a shutout, a point on the road, and some questions left to answer about its attacking identity going forward.

RSL played the Houston Dynamo to a scoreless draw in Sunday’s season opener, the first game since manager Pablo Mastroeni’s interim tag was removed and the first game since former captain Albert Rusnák left Salt Lake for Seattle. Given roster turnover and a handful of key absences — not to mention three open designated player spots that have yet to be filled — Mastroeni and RSL left Houston pleased with the result.

“As a coach, the most important thing is to focus on what we do have and not focus on what we don’t,” Mastroeni said of RSL’s injuries and absences. “In the meantime, I think a performance like this bolsters the confidence of the group and it validates what this team is all about.”

Among the notable absences for RSL were goalkeeper David Ochoa and striker Rubio Rubin (injury), defender Aaron Herrera (red card suspension) and midfielder Everton Luiz (awaiting visa approval).

“It was a really good defensive performance,” said goalkeeper Zach MacMath, who started in place of Ochoa. “Obviously we would have liked to be a bit cleaner on the offensive side of the game, but anytime you go to a place like Houston, first game of the season, and keep a shutout, it’s something to be proud of.”

Houston dominated possession (61.6% to RSL’s 38.4%) but each team only managed two shots on goal apiece Sunday.

“Every game is going to have a different flow to it,” Mastroeni said. “... I thought the last 10-15 minutes we find a groove and were kind of proactive in that department.”

RSL’s best chance came in the 72nd minute, when midfielder Maikel Chang aimed a low, left-footed shot toward the back post, forcing a save from Houston keeper Steve Clark. Ten minutes later, Houston’s Darwin Quintero nearly put the Dynamo in the lead when he smashed the crossbar with a curling shot.

Four minutes into extra time, a foul at the edge of the box gave Salt Lake one final chance to steal a victory but Pablo Ruiz’s free kick went sailing over the goal.

“We’ve just got to get more bodies in the attack,” veteran midfielder Justin Meram said. “I think we have creative players. The more numbers we get in the attack, we can overload the sides and play through and create chances. We were pretty defensive today, which is what Pablo asked. I see it as a good defensive effort and we had some OK attacking moments. But the more numbers we get next week, the better it will be for us.”

Real Salt Lake will play its home opener Saturday when the Seattle Sounders come to Rio Tinto Stadium.