It's been three years since the Houston Dynamo have been a part of the CONCACAF Champions League, and if this edition holds the drama of the Dynamo's past experiences, it should make for an exciting return to North America's top club tournament.
Some the most memorable matches in the Dynamo's seven-year history have come in CONCACAF play. And after Tuesday's draw for the 2012-13 edition, with trips booked to face Honduran champions Olimpia and El Salvador’s Club Deportivo FAS, the potential for more such matches is plenty high.
“It’s an exciting tournament and I love being a part of it and am looking forward to it,” said goalkeeper Tally Hall, who etched his own name in the history books by scoring a goal against Isidro Metapán in the 2009-10 tournament. “They’re tough matches and, at the end of the day, you look back and have a smile about it, if we do [what] we traditionally have.”
Some of the memories that stand out include becoming the first MLS side to earn a result in a competitive match in Mexico with a wild 4-4 draw with Pumas UNAM in 2008. That result is just one part of a respectful and healthy rivalry Houston has developed with Mexican clubs, in part through this tournament.
The series that stands out in particular was a wild affair that ended with Pachuca edging out the Dynamo 5-4 on aggregate after extra time in Mexico in the 2007 CONCACAF Champions' Cup, the predecessor of the CCL.
“The best memory for me is the Pachuca series,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear, who spent part of his playing career with Mexican side Nexaca. “We knew some of the players but didn’t know what we were getting into with them. They really opened our eyes to Mexican football first hand.”
CONCACAF not only opened Houston’s eyes to Mexican football, but also to the downsides of venturing into hostile territory.
The Dynamo, heading into their fourth continental tournament, know all too well about the gamesmanship and obstacles that await MLS clubs in the competition. One instance that came up in talking with the club was a memorable night in Panama in a 1-1 draw with Árabe Unido in 2009 where the lights went out twice and the game produced 13 total cautions and five ejections.
“You look at some of these situations and it’s not always about soccer,” said captain Brian Ching. “The conditions aren’t the best and sometimes the refereeing isn’t the best so you have to be mentally tough. You have to be able to get out of those games with wins or with points and it’ll be a good test and learning experience for these young guys.”
Having that wealth of knowledge will help the Dynamo this time around as they attempt to make another good showing against the region’s best teams.
“You feel as an American team you have a target on your back,” Hall said. “Yes, it’s not always about soccer but at the end of the day it’s a soccer game played in stadium that you may never go to again and against teams you may never play again. It’s an opportunity that not a lot of people get. Hopefully we take advantage, make a good run and carry that momentum.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.