Call it the "other" semifinal, or the undercard as it were, when the Houston Dynamo plays host to Real Salt Lake on Wednesday with a spot in the U.S. Open Cup final is at stake.
While sitting two wins away from hoisting a major trophy has its own inherent drama, the semifinal matchup does not figure to draw the attention of the U.S. Open Cup semifinal Wednesday between FC Cincinnati and Inter Miami, with all eyes on Lionel Messi.
The winner of each game meets in the U.S. Open Cup final Sunday.
Real Salt Lake is 5-0-6 against the Dynamo in MLS play since 2017, including a 0-0 tie in Houston on May 6. In league play this season, RSL's 37 points place them is third in the Western Conference while the Dynamo have compiled 32 points and are in sixth.
The semifinal will serve as a preview for an MLS regular-season matchup between RSL and the Dynamo on Saturday in Sandy, Utah. But the semifinal matchup, with a chance to earn a potential game against Messi and his surging club, figures to carry more weight.
Houston is coming off a 5-0 home thrashing of Portland on Sunday that cost Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese his job, when he was dismissed Monday.
The Dynamo will look for Nelson Quinones to continue developing after the 21-year-old winger from Colombia scored his second goal of the MLS season Sunday. He also scored in U.S. Open Cup play in June against the Chicago Fire.
"He's a handful. He's young, and we're going to keep working with him," Houston coach Ben Olsen said.
Real Salt Lake was supposed to play Sunday on the road against the Los Angeles Galaxy but that match was postponed because of weather related to Hurricane Hilary.
RSL last played Aug. 8 in a 4-0 loss at Los Angeles FC in the Leagues Cup round of 16. It was a costly defeat after midfielder Pablo Ruiz sustained a season-ending knee injury. Ruiz had four goals and six assists in 17 MLS matches.
RSL coach Pablo Mastroeni hopes the experiences gained in the Leagues Cup will help his players overcome not only the Ruiz injury but the pressure of another knockout match.
"It's always great to see where you're at," Mastroeni said. "We were in a tough group and the guys did well. There are a lot of positives to take from the games we played."
— Field Level Media