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Houston aims for top of the West
by Ridge Mahoney, October 15th, 2007 7AM

TAGS:  mls


[TV PREVIEW] Houston has two road games to make up the four points separating it from Western Conference leader Chivas USA, which opened the door a crack by losing its first home game of the season Sunday to Colorado, 2-1. Houston's final home game of the season is this Sunday against Chivas USA at Home Depot Center. If the conference crown is to be doubt until then, the Dynamo need at least a point against Real Salt Lake on Monday.

REAL SALT LAKE (5-14-9) vs. HOUSTON (14-8-6)
Monday, 9 p.m. ET, Direct Kick

Houston has lost, 1-0, in Utah and won, 4-3, in Texas. If it ties Chivas USA on points, it wins the conference title and homefield advantage in the playoffs by the head-to-head tiebreaker.

A 2-1 loss to the Galaxy last week ended Houston's six-game unbeaten streak in league play. Nate Jaqua scored his seventh goal to move into a tie for the team lead with Joseph Ngwenya and Brian Ching, who are both probable for this match despite suffering from Achilles tendonitis and a lower back strain, respectively. Coach Dominic Kinnear will use them carefully, if at all, on the artificial Rice-Eccles surface.

This is just the second game of Ricardo Clark's nine-game suspension but perhaps just as worrying to Kinnear is the status of defenders Eddie Robinson, who is one caution short of his 11th of the season and third suspension, and Ryan Cochrane, one caution away from his first suspension.

Midfielder Richard Mulrooney can deputize for Clark but Kinnear is not so deep with experienced central defenders. Cautions against RSL will mandate suspensions in the season finale; cautions in the finale will be enforced in the playoffs.

Since losing to Chivas USA, 1-0, Aug. 26 on a Jesse Marsch goal, RSL has split its nine games: three wins, three losses, three ties. It lost to Chivas USA again last weekend, 3-2, as a Chris Brown equalizer and a late goal by rookie Robbie Findley, his seventh of the season, fell just short. Findley also scored in RSL's 1-0 win over the Dynamo Aug. 4.

Veteran defender Eddie Pope is retiring after this match, which is the 253rd MLS game of his career. He joined RSL in February, 2005 in a trade with the then-Metrostars, which had acquired him in 2002 from D.C. United. He helped D.C. win three MLS Cups (1996, 1997, 1999), a U.S. Open Cup (1996), and several international trophies.

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