Throughout the week, MLSsoccer.com will bringing you the lowdown three CONCACAF Champions League series involving MLS teams, starting with Houston Dynamo vs. Santos Laguna. You can find Seattle Sounders vs. Tigres UANL on Tuesday and LA Galaxy vs. Herediano on Wednesday. For a refresher on the CCL, be sure to check out our primer on the quarterfinals.
Houston Dynamo outlook: The Dynamo carried their imperious home form into 2013, though they left it late to top D.C. United 2-0 in Saturday’s season opener, and are projected to carry their run of success over the past few years into 2013. However, Santos Laguna may just be the toughest opponent they have faced in BBVA Compass Stadium as the facility nears its one-year anniversary, and Houston will have to up their game after taking 80 minutes to break down United.
Santos Laguna outlook: The 2011-12 CCL runners-up up will be in good spirits heading into the tie, having traveled to the far south of Mexico and picked up a 3-1 win over Jaguares over the weekend, in large part thanks to a brace from US international Herculez Gomez. They took a little time to get settled under newly appointed coach Pedro Caixinha, but now seem to be humming along, and currently sit in the playoff places of the Liga MX as the 2013 Clausura reaches its halfway point.
Houston Dynamo player to watch: On Houston’s side, it’s hard to look past Boniek García. Not only is this the guy who makes the Dynamo midfield hum, he brings with him plenty of experience in the competition, having previously played in it with Olimpia in his native Honduras. If he can effectively disrupt the Santos midfield and help closing off passing lanes to the flank on defense, and stays consistent in his distribution on offense, it will be a big boon to Houston.
Santos Laguna players to watch: Gomez and Oribe Peralta may be the men putting the ball in the back of the net, but the wing duo of Carlos Darwin Quintero and Néstor Calderón will be counted on to generate a large number of attacking chances. Effectively cutting down on Santos’ ability to create through their wingers would be a big step in the right direction for Houston.
Matchup to watch: Will Bruin vs. Felipe Baloy – Baloy has shut down many an MLS forward while leading Santos’ backline in the CCL, and Bruin will be the latest to go up against the hulking Panamanian. The third-year forward will certainly have his hands full trying to find an opening and must be clinical with his chances if Houston are to get the goals they need to win the tie.
Prediction: Dominic Kinnear is right – the gap between MLS and Mexican team is closing, but it may not be closing fast enough for the Dynamo. Santos finally look to be finding their groove under Caixinha and have won their last two games, including a shutout win over powerhouse América. They may not win at BBVA Compass Stadium but they’ll seal qualification to the semifinals on the back of a complete performance at home in Torreón.