SuperLiga 2010: Group A Preview

Houston, Pachuca, Chivas USA, Puebla make for star-laden group

This is the most attractive group of the two in SuperLiga, perhaps if only for the reason that it will rekindle the Houston vs. Pachuca rivalry. The Dynamo are a couple of years removed from their strongest form, and Pachuca, as always, remain a strong side. Both teams will be favorites to reach the final if only because of their past SuperLiga success.

Chivas USA, who have finally begun to turn things around following a club-record six-game losing streak in MLS, hope to at least build some momentum they can carry over into league play. Finally, history may be on debutant Puebla’s side – SuperLiga newcomers won the trophy in the 2008 and 2009 editions of the tournament.

HOUSTON DYNAMO
The three-time SuperLiga participants enter the 2010 edition as a shell of their former selves. Houston traditionally emphasizes defensive soundness above all but has struggled as of late and has been allowing goals to leak in during MLS play. As a result, the Dynamo are winless in their last five league games.

Though it seemed the Dynamo started to turn the corner after getting a very good result on the road against Toronto after the World Cup break, a subsequent 3-1 loss to a struggling Chivas USA in the U.S. Open Cup - albeit with a reserve-laden squad - might have slowed momentum.

Now the Dynamo will hope to use SuperLiga as a springboard for a strong second-half run, much like in 2008, and a resurgence in form could help them make a push to qualify for the MLS playoffs. However, a bad performance could send them spiraling downward.

Key Players:
Brian Ching
– The Dynamo captain has scored three goals in five MLS games since his return from the disappointment of missing the U.S. World Cup team. His ability to hold the ball and defend from the forward position will be a huge asset.
Bobby Boswell – In his first two years with Houston, Boswell helped anchor one of the best defenses in MLS. The defender is strong in the air and does a good job of clearing any danger in Houston’s half of the field. He also scored the game-winning goal in Houston's 2-0 win over Pachuca in the 2008 SuperLiga semifinals.

PACHUCA
The winners of the inaugural 2007 SuperLiga make their third incursion into the tournament with high hopes. In recent years, los Tuzos have established themselves as one of the best teams in the Americas.

Looking to build on their semifinal appearance in the 2010 Mexican Bicentenario, Pachuca have brought in an overhaul of talent, including U.S. national-team striker Herculez Gomez, who scored 10 goals for Puebla in the last Mexican tournament to grab a share of the goal-scoring title with two other players. Though SuperLiga is essentially preseason preparation for Mexican clubs, there’s no reason to think Pachuca will not show up with their characteristic winning mentality.

Key Players:
Herculez Gomez
– The striker had some unsuccessful spells in the MLS before joining Puebla in January. The skilled and powerful forward had a breakout season, which earned him a spot on the U.S. World Cup squad.
José Francisco Torres – A native Texan, the U.S. international is the filter through which Pachuca’s offense flows. A staple in the Tuzos midfield, “Gringo” has the ability to control the pace of the match and can create excellent chances with his superb vision and touch.

CHIVAS USA
The Goats will be hoping that the third time is the charm, as SuperLiga 2010 will be their third foray into international tournament play in as many years. The team has never advanced out of group play, but they are ready to reverse that trend.

The Red-and-White have been struggling domestically, earning just one point from their last seven league matches, but have showed renewed energy in tournament play. Furthermore, the team won its last two U.S. Open Cup matches, including a victory over MLS and SuperLiga rivals Houston, to book a first-ever semifinal appearance. Chivas USA will be looking to build on that success in SuperLiga.

Key Players:
Justin Braun
– The Utah native has become Chivas’ go-to striker this season, notching six goals in 15 appearances. The striker notched will need to be on target if the Red-and-White are to advance past the group stages.
Paulo Nagamura – After a short stint with Tigres UANL in the Mexican First Division, the skillful midfielder has returned to help fill the spot vacated by Sacha Kljestan. Pending the successful receipt of his ITC, the veteran will be eligible for the Goats’ first game.

PUEBLA
Puebla are coming off a disappointing run in the 2010 Bicentenario, finishing last in their group with just five wins in 17 games. The battling club is lead by bombastic and beloved José Luis Sánchez Solá, more commonly known as “Chelís.” Los Camoteros saw their star striker and U.S. international Herculez Gomez leave for fellow Mexican team Pachuca, but to ease the impact of his departure, the club brought in a number of reinforcements.

A bolstered Puebla, under the management of Sánchez, will be looking for redemption in international play (they were eliminated in the semifinals of the 2010 Interliga) as well as in their home league.

KEY PLAYERS
Carlos Ruiz
– The former MLS striker is as dangerous an offensive threat as they come and has plenty of international experience to boot. “El Pescadito” is also great in the clutch, a trait proven by his still-standing MLS record for most career postseason goals (16). He ought to be plenty familiar with the Dynamo after years of battling against Houston.
Álvaro González – A legend at Puebla, the striker has notched 72 goals in 113 appearances for the Camoteros, good for fourth place in the club’s all-time scoring list. Last season, he averaged a goal in every two games, and his role as a scorer has become even more vital.

GAME TO WATCH
Houston Dynamo vs. Pachuca, July 15, 7 p.m. (Buy Tickets)
By far the most mouth-watering matchup in Group A and perhaps the tournament. The two sides have waged thrilling battles in the past, and this game should just add to their hot rivalry.