Hans Maximo Musielik
Santos deserves the confidence they showed after last Tuesday's 1-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo. Afterall, Liga MX dominates MLS in international competition. The men in orange have a tough task ahead, but could be the team to humble Los Guerreros.
Confidence can be taken for arrogance or cockiness from time to time. It's really all on how you interpret it. In some cases, it's deserved and up to someone to shut up the person.
Let me explain.
On Tuesday night, I enjoyed watching the Houston Dynamo sneak out a 1-0 victory over Liga MX side Santos Laguna in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match. Like most Dynamo fans, I'm dreaming of the day we lift the precious cup that would give us the title of the region's best club and give the men in orange a chance to play against the best clubs in the world in the Club World Cup.
But also like most Dynamo fans, I understand that feat being accomplished is easier said than done. The biggest question leading up to Tuesday's match was what lineup would the professor Dominic Kinnear field in the first leg. Coming off their MLS opener just three days earlier, fan's opinions varied on a starter, reserve, or mixed lineup. In the most recent Canetti's Corner, the team president said the team was considering it a playoff game and it had me wondering if the coach and team president share the same opinion.
When the players took the field pregame, it was evident who was going to start the match - the same starting XI that played against D.C. United aside from youngster Warren Creavalle getting the call over Captain Brad Davis.
As the lineups were officially released, Dynamo fans had a different sense of belief. Could it finally be the year where we put everything we have into winning the CCL? Remember how confident we felt back in 2007 heading into Pachuca with a 2-0 aggregate lead?
That year, we quickly learned how fast a lead can disappear in Mexico. If you don't recall, Houston went on to lose in Estadio Hidalgo 5-2. I was there to see it all - with a father in law who was happy because he was born in the state of Hidalgo and a Pachuca fan.
Back to the point - Santos. Confidence.
Earlier today, I read something CSN Houston reporter Sebastian Salazar wrote up on the postgame press conference from Tuesday. It's funny, because the arrogance he talks about from the Santos side - particularly manager Pedro Caixinha- was something I was amazed by.
The questions from the media were mixed between English and Spanish and it didn't matter the language. The Portuguese coach's answers oozed confidence in either language - and I'll add at times he had an unexplainable smirk on his face while answering some questions.
The comment that most stands out to me from the press conference was the opening question, which he confidently answered in English and said he felt "there was only one team on the pitch and that team was Santos Laguna."
Caixinha went on for another 10 minutes or so answering questions from the media and shaking off any worry of their club heading back home to Estadio Corona with a 1-0 deficit.
United States Men's National Team forward Herculez Gomez mentioned after the match Houston would have been in a better position by scoring additional goals and felt confident Santos could handle the challenge in the second leg.
Here's the thing though - the confidence (or arrogance that many call it) that Caixinha and Santos showed on Tuesday night after becoming Houston's latest victim at home is well earned in my eyes.
With the history they have in this tournament in particular, Mexican clubs have every right to feel they're on another level. Until an MLS team convincingly defeats the best teams from Mexico, nothing will or should change.
Last week, before the CCL quarterfinals resumed play, there were a number of people talking about the gapbetween Major League Soccer and Liga MX was closing. It's a mystery to me how one team (Real Salt Lake) making it to a final should support such bold statements. Will MLS close the gap on Liga MX in terms of regional dominance in the future? I'm sure they will - it's inevitable. But it's a bit early to use such strong language now. Right now, it's at an individual club level.
Can the Houston Dynamo make history Wednesday is the question? As our Panic Room post outlined, Santos is 18-1 all time in CONCACAF Champions League play at home, outscoring opponents 68-17. Santos' lone loss was against another Liga MX club and against MLS competition, they are 4-0 while outscoring their opponents 15-3.
If Houston wants to begin to silence the "arrogance" of the Mexican club, it has to do what no one will believe they can - win in Estadio Corono on Wednesday.
Is it possible? Absolutely.
In case you have a short memory, Houston has made history in Mexico in the past. Back in 2008, the Dynamo became the first American club to leave Mexico with a result when they drew Pumas del UNAM 4-4 in CCL play.
Stats are stats and history is just that - history. Many will say they don't matter come Wednesday, but in sports these things do matter. For fans, we often find comfort (and fear at times) in stats and history.
With Santos' domination of MLS opponents in CCL play (all opponents really) in Torreón, it's nice to know there is at least a light at the end of the tunnel.
For me, the reaction from Santos and particularly Caixinha's postgame comments just adds to the fun of this matchup and upcoming game. Right now they have all the right to stand tall and feel good about their position with their opponent holding a slight one goal advantage.
Unfortunately for Santos, that opponent is the Houston Dynamo. And while trying to remain unbiased, I think if there is one team that can climb this mountain, it's the Dynamo.
Whether you talk to me in person, follow me on social media, or read my articles on Dynamo Theory, you'll consistently hear me say this about the CCL and international competition. In order to be the best, we should go through the best.
Without getting ahead of ourselves and sticking to the one game at a time mentality - Houston's focus in on getting the upset in Torreón Wednesday.
I will say this though - if the Dynamo want to put a quick end to the overly abundant confidence Mexico has when facing MLS clubs, the perfect scenario will be to go through Santos, Tigres, and Monterrey on their way to being crowned CONCACF's best.
Nothing would say "shut up" quite like that.