In contemplating the Houston Dynamo’s performance on Tuesday night in Cancun, the only thing that pops into my head is Dusty Rhodes saying “Shameful!”. The Dynamo were the only MLS squad to make it out of the CONCACAF Champions League group-stage and into the quarter-finals. After giving up a 1-0 lead in the 82nd minute last Tuesday during the first leg of this tie, the Dynamo went down to Mexico needing a 1-0 win or a 2-2 draw, at the very least, in order to advance to the CCL semi-finals.
On Saturday, the Dynamo held a 70 minute practice game against the Montreal Impact, a match that was intense and aggressive on both sides of the ball. So intense that in the second half, while protesting the issuing of a red card to Roberto Brown, Montreal coach John Limniatis shoved Corey Ashe, causing both benches to clear. Order was restored and the Dynamo won the game 3-2. Brian Ching picked up a brace for the Dynamo and expressed his confidence going into the second leg of their tie with Atlante.
The concept of making history was on the minds of Dynamo fans as they anticipated Tuesday night’s match in Cancun. No MLS team has ever beaten an FMF team in a competitive match in Mexico. Last year the Houston Dynamo made history by getting a draw in Mexico City when they tied Pumas, 4-4. A victory in Cancun against Atlante, especially in light of the Dynamo performance in Mexico City, seemed within grasp. Atlante are newcomers to Cancun and their following, in an area of Mexico where baseball is more popular than soccer (as evidenced by the baseball style organ employed during Tuesday’s match), is small. Cancun is at sea level, easily accessible to American tourists, and lacking in the pollution that plagues Mexico City. Additionally, Atlante have been struggling in the 2009 Clausura and Tuesday’s CCL match marked Atlante’s 5th match since February 14th.
Unfortunately, the Houston Dynamo’s pre-season form was spotlighted on Tuesday as the collapsed offensively and defensively, limping away from Cancun without scoring a goal while giving up three goals. It was reminiscent of the Dynamo defeat at the hands of Red Bull New York in the first round of last year’s MLS playoffs, or more accurately, it was reminiscent of last year’s 6-1 defeat at the hands of Gamba Osaka in the 2008 Pan-Pacific Championship.
With Bobby Boswell being sidelined with flu like symptoms and Eddie Robinson out due to a knee injury, the Dynamo went into the match with a defensive handicap. Julius James, acquired in the trade that sent Dwayne de Rosario to Toronto late last year, will likely become an important part of the Dynamo defense, but like Bobby Boswell in last year’s PPC, James is still learning to mesh and communicate with his new backline, and Atlante exploited the resulting miscues to great effect.
For the past few weeks, it has been clear that the Houston Dynamo have to add some more offensive depth, but as they approach the start of the 2009 MLS season they find themselves in the unfortunate position of needing to shore up their defense. The left knee injury that kept Eddie Robinson out of Tuesday’s match was severe enough that Robinson underwent knee surgery on Wednesday and is out indefinitely.
The Dynamo went into half time with a 2 goal deficit thanks to goals by Fernando Navarro in the 23rd minute and Rafael Marquez Lugo in the 36th minute. Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear wanted his team to get more aggressive, so going into the second half he put Geoff Cameron and Corey Ashe on as substitutes. While these Dynamo substitutes played well, they were not able to sufficiently ignite the Dynamo offense. A goal from Giancarlo Maldonado at the end of the match just added insult to injury for a Dynamo side that was outplayed and outclassed, by an FMF side that is in mid-season form and took advantage of their opponent’s pre-season form.
During the CCL group stage, due to fixture congestion, the Dynamo took several gambles by fielding primarily reserve squads, and these gambles paid off as the Dynamo advanced into the CCL quarter-finals. During the group stage, Coach Kinnear was not afraid to hide his distaste for the tactics of several of the teams his side faced, and expressed his preference for SuperLiga. But going into Tuesday’s match, it was clear that Kinnear, who hates to lose, wanted the victory and wanted to move on to the semi-finals. Having seen and interacted with Dominic Kinnear after his Dynamo have lost important matches, I would hate to be one of the Dynamo players after Tuesday’s loss.
With the current CCL behind them, the Dynamo now focus their attention on hosting 2008 MLS Champions Columbus Crew on Saturday March 21st. Before that happens though, do not be surprised if the Dynamo step up efforts to sign Canadian defender Andre Hanait. The Dynamo’s offensive depth issues will likely be dealt with later this Spring, a common theme in Houston.