HOUSTON – Santos Laguna manger Pedro Caixinha is nothing if not worldly, a youthful 42-year-old in the mold of José Mourinho who counts himself among the ranks of “academic coaches” that honed their craft through extensive schooling rather than a lengthy playing career.
To wit, Caixinha holds a masters degree in sport and logged time on the bench in his native Portugal as well as Saudi Arabia, Greece and Romania before landing in Mexico. So it was no surprise when the Santos boss conducted interviews Monday night under the lights at BBVA Compass Stadium in English perfected, in part, during a stint in Scotland learning from the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Unsurprisingly, the Portuguese tactician sees plenty of parallels between the Dynamo and the sides he encountered in the British Isles ahead of Tuesday night’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer).
“I would say it’s a typical British team: fantastic pace with a lot of intensity, quality players that you need to be aware of all the time,” Caixinha said. “We expect tomorrow a good game, good challenges. It’s also good for us to come here and we know that the soccer is developing too fast here in the US, so we are counting on a difficult opponent tomorrow.”
And even though he admitted MLS wasn’t particularly well known in Portugal – although he did mention the Galaxy and David Beckham, specifically – Caixinha exhibited a keen understanding of the difficult task facing Santos.
He knew exactly how many days the Dynamo’s new stadium had been open (298) and how many games make up the Houston’s home unbeaten streak (31). He also name dropped the likes of Adam Moffat and Giles Barnes, and said he and his staff had scouted the 2012 MLS Cup final and Saturday’s season opener against D.C. United.
There’s respect between the sides, no doubt, but Caixinha was also quick to emphasis that Santos’ aim in Houston is victory and nothing short of that.
“I play all the time to win because we have talented players – a team that likes to play, that likes to win,” he said. “We need to respect the opponent. If we get on the pitch knowing exactly what you’re counting on, it will be better for our success.”
United States national team and Santos forward Herculez Gomez echoed his manager’s thoughts, adding that his teammates respected the league and its players but “definitely want to beat [MLS clubs] and beat them bad.”
“This a club [in which] we demand the best out of ourselves. We’re not going to go home happy with anything but a win,” Gomez said. “But this is a tournament. This is a 180-minute tactical battle. We’ve been in this position before. We left Seattle’s home pitch with a 2-1 loss, and we felt pretty good about that.
“That away goal is crucial. The way you play this tournament is a bit different than you would play any other game or games. We’re aware of that. We definitely know if we can get a good result here tomorrow, it will put us in the driver’s seat for next week."
Santos eliminated the Sounders in the quarterfinals of last year’s edition of the tournament by taking care of business in the second leg in Torreón, Mexico, and knocked off Toronto FC in the semifinals before falling to Monterrey in the finals.
This time around, Gomez, who participated in the Club World Cup during his time with Pachuca, said Santos won’t truly be satisfied unless they claim the region’s top prize. And, right now, the Dynamo are the side standing in the way.
“We want to play against the world’s best,” Gomez said. “We want to be recognized as an international brand, and the only way to do that is by playing in the Club World Cup. The only way to get there is by beating Houston.”