Back in March, the Houston Dynamo looked to be set up to make a good run in the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stages. They took a 1-0 lead at home against Santos Laguna and headed to Torreón, Mexico, knowing they had a chance to progress.
Things didn’t go so well there, as Houston succumbed to the eventual finalists 3-0 and were bounced from the region’s biggest club tournament.
Now the Dynamo are back in CCL play starting Tuesday night in Trinidad and Tobago against W Connection (8 p.m. CT; Fox Sports 1). While their MLS playoff run is in full swing, they're also intent on starting on the right foot in their latest quest to become kings of CONCACAF.
“This is a competition our club’s taken more and more seriously over the years and it’s something we expect to advance in,” Brian Ching told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Monday from the team’s training in Trinidad. “Along with those expectations, you have to go out there and prove you’re a better team. That’s the challenge now, and it’s one you’re ready for.
“We look at this game as almost a must-win [game] that we must get a result out of if we want to continue on in this competition.”
Houston have been a frequent participant in the regional club championship. Including the CONACAF Champions' Cup years, they are embarking on their sixth foray into the tournament, where they've been 10-9-9 all-time. Overall, they’ve advanced to the semifinals in twice, in 2007 and 2008, but never the final.
An issue that’s always cropped up for them, and all MLS teams for that matter, is depth. But Houston’s 2013 group could be the best-equipped group for the CCL in the team's history.
“I think once we get Calen [Carr] and Omar [Cummings] back to 100 percent fitness, I think it’ll be an extremely deep team,” Ching said. “If everybody gets back to full form, it will be one of the most skilled teams we’ve had.”
Houston have one of the deepest rosters in MLS, boasting a midfield full of starting-caliber players, including new Designated Player Alexander López and deep lines at forward and defense. They’ll be hit by the loss of Tyler Deric, their goalkeeper throughout last season’s group stage who is recovering from a fractured right thumb, but have starter Tally Hall and youngster Erich Marscheider to take up the mantle.
With a deep squad and some added motivation from past performances, the Dynamo are focused on getting this trip through the CCL off on the right foot against an unfamiliar, but not underestimated, opponent.
“It’s going to be a physical opponent and a tough game in CONCACAF, which all those games are,” Ching said. “If we don’t bring the right mentality then we’re asking for a long night.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.