As part of our countdown to MLS opening weekend, we're taking a look at each Week 1 match. On Friday, we break down the storylines around the Houston Dynamo-Real Salt Lake match on March 2 (6 pm ET | ESPN+).
Each club enjoyed highs in 2018 -- with the Dynamo winning the U.S. Open Cup and RSL upsetting LAFC in the Knockout Round of the playoffs – and some lows – typified by the Dynamo missing the playoffs and RSL sliding far enough that they needed help from the Dynamo on Decision Day to make the playoffs over the LA Galaxy.
Here are three things to watch as the Dynamo host RSL:
Houston's scintillating front four
Unless the Wilmer Cabrera rotates his side on the back of their Concacaf Champions League second leg midweek, the Dynamo's midfield and attack pick themselves. With Juan David Cabezas next to new signing Matias Vera in central midfield, the front four of Alberth Elis, Tomas Martinez, Romell Quioto and Mauro Manotas are ensconced as some of the first names on the teamsheet.
When that quartet are in sync, they create beautiful melodies, like their elegant U.S. Open Cup final performance. But, the consistency wasn't there in 2018 as the club limped to ninth place in the Western Conference, 13 points adrift the playoff line.
Real Salt Lake's interchangeable attack
Unlike Houston, RSL don't have a clear-cut starting attack. Head coach Mike Petke can create many permutations with those at his disposal and tinge the selections to match varying tactical goals. They have pace, creativity and everything between, depending on who plays with who.
Bobby Warshaw covered this topic at length, calling them the most unpredictable team in the league.
"They have more lineup flexibility than anyone in MLS heading into 2019," Warshaw wrote. "They could throw out vastly different lineups — and playing styles — each week. You don’t just need a scouting report, you need a calculator."
Intrigue from imports and reliable veterans
RSL signed Designated Player forward Sam Johnson and Brazilian defensive midfielder Everton Luiz, both from Europe, and neither of whom are known commodities in MLS. Houston added center back Kiki Struna and Vera from abroad. Keep an eye on whoever makes their league debuts on March 2.
Meanwhile, both clubs have a few players that have certainly been around the block. DaMarcus Beasley is still balling out for the Dynamo while Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando continue to be integral to RSL's plans.