For the fourth time in sixteen months, Houston and Pachuca will face off in the knock out stages of a major international competitions. Last year this same staged Pachuca used dogged determination and some controversial officiating to advance after winning a penalty kick shootout. This year, Houston will be without leading tournament goal scorer Stuart Holden who has departed with the US Olympic Team for China and Patrick Ianni also on the Olympic Team. The Dynamo however have been able to register new signings, Kei Kamara, who recently featured on Sierre Leone’s World Cup qualifying team and Nate Jaqua fresh from scoring five goals in ten games in the Austrian league for the knock out stages.
Christian Jimenez continues to play well despite his advanced age for the Tuzos. Bruno Marioni has had a great tournament and nobody would fancy Miguel Calero to get beat in a critical situation in a semifinal match. Pachuca has been the elite club in North America over the past several years, and while Houston bring a lot to the table, it’s difficult to see them breaking through tonight at Robertson Stadium.
On another note, detractors of this tournament should acknowledge the “Superliga hangover” affect which ailed DC United and Santos in the first competitive matches following unceremonious dismissals from this tournament. United was again humiliated at home by Houston last week and it took Santos Laguna a full half to get acclimated in its opening Apertura match this past weekend against Club America.
Back to tonight’s showdown. Houston’s weakness at the back will be the decisive blow for the MLS Cup champions’ hopes of adding Superliga to their trophy case. With Ianni gone, and Eddie Robinson again showing his injury prone self, it’s going to be rough going. A key tonight if Houston is to be successful will be the intensity of Rico Clark, marking Gabriel Caballero and Christian Jimenez, as well as the wide play of Brad Davis and Cory Ashe. While I’m picking Pachuca, a win for Houston would not shock me.
Prediction: Pachuca 2 Houston 1