The Houston Dynamo nearly opened their 2009 calendar in style but ended up settling for a heartbreaking 1-1 tie with Atlante of Mexico in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series Tuesday at Robertson Stadium. Bobby Boswell's header in the 34th minute opened the scoring for Houston, but an 82nd-minute equalizer from Gabriel Pereyra left the teams deadlocked.
The Dynamo had multiple chances to extend their first-half lead, and it could leave them wondering what might have been as Atlante grabbed a vital away goal ahead of next Tuesday's return match at Estadio Quintana Roo in Cancun.
With Dynamo center back Eddie Robinson and Atlante goalkeeper Federico Vilar suspended, there were no surprised in either team's starting lineup. Julius James got his first start as a member of the Dynamo and his first start in a Champions League match. Stuart Holden started in an attacking midfield role despite the recent passing of his father, who was memorialized with a moment of silence before kickoff.
The game started sloppily, with multiple turnovers in the first 15 minutes. With the Dynamo in the middle of a short preseason, it was probably to be expected. Atlante had a few quality chances early but could not capitalize. Their best chance came in the seventh minute, when a give-and-go between Giancarlo Maldonado and Pereyra set the Argentine up for a shot on goal, but he could not get enough behind it, and it was easily saved by Dynamo goalkeeper Pat Onstad.
As the Dynamo began to get their feet underneath them, the pressure on Atlante's defense began to mount, resulting in numerous corners for Houston. On the fifth corner, in the 34th minute, Brad Davis found an unmarked Boswell, whose stooping header easily beat goalkeeper Omar Ortiz inside the right post to give Houston a 1-0 lead.
Up a goal, the MLS side began to pour it on. In the 37th minute, a turnover by the Atlante defense found Holden alone in front of goal. Instead of shooting, he opted to pass and missed his intended target. In the 39th minute, Brian Mullan impressively beat Luis Venegas off the dribble, and his cross found Kei Kamara, but the forward's header hit the crossbar.
In the 41st minute, Holden narrowly missed extending Houston's lead, as his shot went high and wide of goal. While Houston was happy to be leading 1-0 when the whistle blew to end the first half, the Dynamo would later come to regret the chances they missed at the end of the first half.
The second half was physiucal and foul-ridden, with referee Neal Brizan of Trinidad & Tobago showing six yellow cards and whistling 23 fouls in the second half. With all the fouls, both teams were more dangerous on set pieces than from the run of the play.
In the 58th minute, Atlante threatened first when Fernando Navarro sent in a beautifull ball to Luis Gabriel Rey, but his header went over the bar. That threat was merely foreshadowing what was to to come in the 82nd minute when another Atlante corner from Navarro found Venegas beyond the far post. He headed the ball down, and it bounced over Onstad into a pile of players in the goalmouth. Pereyra was first to the ball and nudged it over the line to tie the game 1-1.
Houston did get chances to pull ahead late. A Geoff Cameron header was saved well by Ortiz in the 90th minute, and a Brad Davis free kick from 30 yards went just wide of goal. However, those chances were too little, too late, as the final whistle blew and left the teams on level terms.
Despite playing their first competitive game in three months, the late goal was heartbreak for Houston, as it not only evened the game, but also provided Atlante with a critical away goal. As a result, Houston will be left with two choices to advance: They have to either win in Mexico or tie Atlante and score at least two goals in the process.
Dwain Capodice is a contributor to MLSnet.com.
Atlante vs. Houston Dynamo
February 24, 2009 -- Robertson Stadium, Houston TX
2008-09 CONCACAF Champions League -- Quarterfinals, Game 1
HOU -- Bobby Boswell 1 (Brad Davis) 24
ATN -- Gabriel Pereyra 3 (Luis Venegas) 82
Atlante -- Omar Ortiz, Fernando Navarro, Miguel Angel Martinez, Luis Venegas, Jose Guerrero, Gerardo Espinoza, Rafael Marquez Lugo (Andres Carevic 85), Gabriel Pereyra, Daniel Arreola (Luis David Velazquez 90), Giancarlo Maldonaldo (Clemente Ovalle 46). Luis Gabriel Rey.
Substitutes not used: Gerardo Castillo, Diego Garcia, Gerardo Ruiz, Ismael Valadez.
Houston Dynamo -- Pat Onstad, Richard Mulrooney, Bobby Boswell, Julius James, Wade Barrett, Brian Mullan (Geoff Cameron 77), Ricardo Clark, Stuart Holden, Brad Davis, Brian Ching, Kei Kamara.
Substitutes Not Used: Tally Hall, Corey Ashe, Mike Chabala, John Michael Hayden, Craig Waibel, Chris Wondolowski.
ATN -- Gabriel Pereyra (caution; Reckless Foul) 9
ATN -- Daniel Arreola (caution; Reckless Tackle) 44
HOU -- Kei Kamara (caution; Reckless Foul) 56
HOU -- Brad Davis (caution; Tactical Foul) 63
HOU -- Richard Mulrooney (caution; Delaying a Restart) 68
HOU -- Geoff Cameron (caution; Reckless Tackle) 81
ATN -- Gerardo Espinoza (caution; Tactical Foul) 83
ATN -- Luis Venegas (caution; Reckless Tackle) 89
Referee: Neal Brizan (T&T)
Referee's Assistants: Michael Ragoonath (T&T); Simon Baptiste (T&T)
4th Official: Alex Prus (USA)
Weather: Partly Cloudy-and-65 degrees
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial