Ching and the Dynamo have more than Football to worry about tonight
The Houston Dynamo under Dominic Kinnear, perhaps the best American soccer coach anywhere have been wildly successful since re-locating from San Jose two years ago. They’ve won two MLS Cups, gone deep in two CONCACAF Champions Cup, made the final of the inaugural Pan Pacific Cup and were oh so close to getting to finals of Superliga. However, the Dynamo has never faced anything resembling what they will tonight in Costa Rica against Saprissa.
While MLS fans often times argue it is unfair to play matches at altitude in Mexico it simply is not. Games played in Mexico don’t in any event have the intimidation aspect, the outright thuggish behavior and hooliganism that matches in Costa Rica do. Crowds in MLS are very much a wine and cheese crowd compared to many around the world, and even though Mexicans are passionate about their football, their behavior for both club and national team matches doesn’t approach the depths of human decency that matches in Costa Rica do.
In Saprissa’s second leg quarterfinal match last month with Atlante featured a number of incidents that seemed to unnerve Atlante, a club that lacks robust fan support and last year had to move from Mexico City to Cancun. We’ve seen the United States national team on three seperate occasions in the last three qualifying cycles become unglued in San Jose when facing Costa Rica. When Mexico beats the United States it is because they have more skill (not the vaunted Azteca where Mexico’s performances against the United States in the last three qualifying cycles have been short of the dominant form Mexican fans seem to represent when talking about the series) but often times the US players have a hard time handling the crowd in Costa Rica, and almost always give a far worse account of themselves in Costa Rica than in Mexico. The same has traditionally been true for MLS teams who lose to Mexican teams on the road because the Mexican teams have more talent and skill but lose to Costa Rican teams because they are not accustomed to playing in a passionate football atmosphere in a serious elimination match.
How Houston holds up tonight will speak volumes about the MLS Cup Champions and ultimately about the league itself. Will the wily veterans like Dwayne DeRossario and Brian Ching lead the way to the Dynamo competiting at a high level (even if they lose the match) and bring some pride to MLS and American Soccer fans? Or will the Dynamo like the Galaxy, Wizards, Earthquakes, Crew and Revolution before them go down to Costa Rica and fall victim to the mind games and hooliganism the crowds exhibit? I’m guessing that Houston will lose but will not embarass themselves in US National Team/former MLS team fashion. The Dynamo can hang their head high even if they inevitably lose should they compete at a high level, unlike their predecessors from MLS and the vast majority of Mexican clubs including Atlante have in the last several years.