In the middle of a playoff chase that has just nine games left, the Houston Dynamo suddenly have bigger fish to fry as they kick off their 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League campaign this week.
Starting with a trip to El Salvador to face FAS on Wednesday (9 pm CT; Fox Soccer) and continuing next week with a match at Honduran champions Olimpia, Houston will attempt to kick off group play right in two places they know will be hostile territory.
“The expectation is to win this game,” Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear said. “You want to get off on the right start in CONCACAF. It’s not easy and it’s always hard to predict what’s going to go on when you go down there. A lot of things are going to go differently and you just have to be prepared for it but the expectation is to go down and win this game.”
Veterans of CONCACAF play know exactly what to expect come Wednesday. Rough field conditions and unfriendly treatment are part of the “charm” that comes with playing in these types of matches.
After training Monday, Kinnear detailed some of those memorable moments including when the lights went out in Panama against Árabe Unido in 2009 and when the club scored a 4-4 draw at Pumas UNAM – the first result by an American club in Mexico in competitive play – and the case of the disappearing ball boys against Pachuca.
“When we played at Pachuca, they must have had 20 ball boys and, when they went ahead, they all disappeared,” Kinnear said with a smile, “and when it got tied up, all of a sudden, these 20 ball boys re-appeared again. It’s an eye-opener, but that’s life on the road, especially in CONCACAF.”
The hostile environment is just one part of the equation for Houston. Adding to the challenge will be balancing minutes for a squad that, starting with Sunday’s draw against the Columbus Crew, will play six matches in 18 days in four different cities.
“I think there’s a number of players looking at these games as our schedule gets busy these next couple of weeks,” said forward Cam Weaver (pictured above). “We’re going to have some player step up and show they can contribute in these games that matter. That’s what I plan to do and that’s what a number of other guys are looking to do.”
While Houston are going to rely on their depth, that should not be construed as them taking CONCACAF lightly. Kinnear and the Dynamo have taken pride in the fact that they have built a deep roster, many of which have been in the types of environments they will encounter in the next two weeks.
“It’s big for MLS and it’s big for us,” said forward Will Bruin. “We can make a bigger name for our club by going and taking on some of these opponents from other countries. If we can get through the group stage and play bigger teams it can be good for us.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.