The Houston Dynamo enter Thursday’s CONCACAF Champions League group stage game with C.D. FAS of El Salvador with plenty at stake. Dominic Kinnear’s team must balance the fight for a playoff spot in the hyper-competitive Eastern Conference with the desire to win Group 3 in the tournament and secure a place in the quarterfinals, set for next March.
The incentive to succeed on both fronts is substantial. The MLS Cup playoffs are the bread-and-butter of the Dynamo, a stage in which they captured the league’s ultimate prize in their first two seasons in Houston and fell a game short of capturing their third title a year ago. Still, success in the Champions League would help grow the franchise in Houston and throughout the CONCACAF region.
After two group stage games, Houston is tied for first place in Group 3 of the Champions League with C.D. Olimpia of Honduras. (Click here to see group-stage tiebreakers and updated standings).
Olimpia have already played both of its group stage games at home and must play its final two games on the road, including what will likely be a decisive meeting with the Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium on Oct. 23. Conversely, the Dynamo have already played their two road games in the group stage and will play their final two group matches in Houston, where they have not lost a competitive match in 23 games dating to June 18, 2011.
Before the group’s co-leaders meet on Oct. 23, both must face FAS, with the Dynamo having the first opportunity to seize control of the group on Thursday at BBVA Compass Stadium. The Dynamo defeated FAS, 3-1, on Aug. 22 in San Salvador with goals from Brian Ching, Cam Weaver and Je-Vaughn Watson.
A win on Thursday would help the Dynamo remain in control to win the group. Only the winners of the eight groups advance to the quarterfinals, where the Dynamo would be in contention to play for their first CONCACAF Champions League title and a trip to the prestigious FIFA Club World Cup.
No Major League Soccer team has won the CONCACAF Champions League since its renaming in 2008. In fact, only two American clubs have ever won the regional tournament, D.C. United in 1998 and the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2000, when it was named the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
If the Dynamo win the current Champions League, their victory would end the current Mexican dominance in the competition. Mexico has produced the last seven Champions League winners, including Monterrey, which has won the previous two tournaments.
In fact, to many, MLS success in the Champions League is comparable to American success against Mexico in international competition. Many think that Major League Soccer’s global image will grow when one of its clubs wins the Champions League. Furthermore, an MLS club winning the Champions League would likely grow the expectations of fans in North America and would likely raise the tournament – and the league’s profile.
The eight group winners that comprise the quarterfinals representatives next March could consistent entirely of clubs from Mexico and the United States. A quarterfinal showdown next spring with a club from MLS or Mexico would be a great way to kick off the new season.
A Champions League title ensures an automatic place in the FIFA Club World Cup, held in Morocco next December. The Club World Cup includes the champions of the six global soccer federations, including Europe, South America, Africa, Asia, Oceania and CONCACAF. Recent champions include Barcelona (2011, 2009), Inter Milan (2010), Manchester United (2008) and A.C. Milan (2007).
The tournament’s importance will be visible in Houston on Thursday as the Dynamo face C.D. FAS of El Salvador. It is more than just a game against an opponent from Central America. It is a match that begins Houston’s quest for the quarterfinals, where all positive roads lead to Morocco.