Just like the last postseason, the Houston Dynamo defense will once again be front and center in the second leg of a two-game series Wednesday night (7 pm CT; FOX Soccer).
The club is in Torreón, Mexico, preparing for their return leg against a hard charging, technical side in Santos Laguna. Houston holds a 1-0 edge in the series after defeating Santos 1-0 last week at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Of course, Santos demolished Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders at Estadio Corona in the last CCL campaign, by scores of 6-2 and 6-1, respectively, after the MLS sides took results at home.
Where Seattle and Toronto failed, though, Houston have shown in the past year and a half that they have a defensive group to succeed. After back-to-back shutouts of D.C. United and Santos last week, there is evidence that this series could hold more of the same.
“You’ve got to step up in the playoffs and that’s what we did and it paid off for us [last year],” defender Jermaine Taylor told MLSsoccer.com. “Once you do you build confidence and there’s more confidence from the team in the backline. It’s a good start [this year] and we want it to stay that way and keep the quality all the time.”
Why the confidence in Houston? Simple: experience and makeup.
The defense is a unique blend of size in the middle and speed on the outside. When teams find cracks in the wall, Tally Hall has shown to be up to the challenge to keep the Dynamo in matches. It is a makeup that came into its own while being tested in last year’s playoffs.
Houston marched through the Eastern Conference playoff bracket last season on the back of a defense that allowed just four goals in five games, three of which were on the road. The Dynamo group was able to time and again repel attacks intent on harming their chances of a second straight MLS Cup appearance.
In no game was that more evident than in the second leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal against Sporting Kansas City, where they absorbed massive amounts of pressure and conceded just one goal, allowing them to emerge with a 2-1 aggregate win.
While the odds were stacked against them, Houston continually lived to fight another day, even if it was not always a pretty show.
“I sure hope the second leg isn’t like the Sporting Kansas City second leg because that was one of the most difficult games I’ve ever played,” Brad Davis said. “We don’t plan on it being like that. It wasn’t a great game for us, but we got the result we needed. You have to be prepared for the absolute worst, but hope for the best.”
That situation is not far removed from the one Houston faces Wednesday night.
Santos will push and look to beat the Dynamo into submission from the first kick as they have shown capable of with MLS teams in the past. If Tuesday’s Dynamo 1-0 win showed anything, however, it is that the club can stand up to the opponent’s pressure.
Wednesday in Torreon, however, will pose the ultimate test of the ability of the Dynamo defense, and team as a whole, to stand up in the face of adversity. If they do not, Houston will be another on a growing list of MLS teams that came up short in Torreón.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.