Perhaps the critics of my recent posts did have a valid point: the standard of MLS is improving ever so slightly. Saprissa the MLS slayer was brought to its knees by a very lively and strong Houston Dynamo side at Robertson Stadium, and I for one could not be happier for the message this potentially sends about the improving standard of the league.
Saprissa is a club I strongly believe would win MLS if they were in the US domestic league. The 2005 CONCACAF Champions who beat Pumas in the finals (Pumas had defeated DC United 5-0 in Mexico City in the semifinal second leg), and lost in the 2004 final looked more skillful but several steps slower than Houston on the night. Saprissa has won their last three ties against MLS Clubs in the competition (2006 vs the LA Galaxy, 2005 vs Kansas City and 2004 vs Chicago), and quite frankly looked far superior to the MLS sides in each tie.
I tipped Saprissa at the beginning of the competition on the American Soccer Show to win this event, but based on tonight’s flow of play I see Houston having a shot to pull off a major upset next week. The Dynamo remain an underdog going to San Jose but clearly demonstrated they can play a high quality, possession oriented game against what is perceived as a more skillful side and create chances. If Houston can create similar chances in next week’s away leg, they could sneak an improbable victory, a victory which will hasten the arrival of MLS once again as serious player on the CONCACAF stage after several years of false starts and missed opportunities. Keep in mind since the last MLS finalist, the Galaxy in 2000, three Costa Rican teams, and nine Mexican teams have made the finals. No Honduran or American team has made the final since the 2000 final between Olimpia and Los Angeles.