USA TODAY Sports
The Houston Dynamo look to beat the odds and advance to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League as they try to defend a 1-0 first leg victory in Wednesday's 2nd leg at Estadio Corona in Torreón, Mexico.
Think of it as a return to the playoff format of last October. The Houston Dynamo, fresh off a 1-0 victory over Santos Laguna in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, travel 568 miles southwest, down to Torreón in the Mexican state of Coahuila for the second leg. Unlike their Liga MX adversaries, the Dynamo didn't have a match scheduled between the two legs. The bye weekend is something that Dynamo supporters no doubt relish, because let's face facts here: they have a monumental task before them now.
I've written before about how the first match was a collection of bad luck and missed chances. I've brought to light just how massive the home advantage has been for Santos Laguna (that 18-1-0 record and + 51 goal differential in CCL play is otherworldly). I've read reports where Santos personnel, while giving credit to the Dynamo, are relishing the fact that they're hosting the second leg while only down a goal. I've also read where Dynamo players seem to be calm - though not cocky - about the state of the tie.
What does all of this mean, you ask? It means that come Wednesday night, there's a good chance that we'll be treated to a show rather like the first leg. It took a while for the two teams to find their pace and style, and while I don't think either side was able to fully implement their strategy, people who watched the match found themselves watching a fine exhibition of the beautiful game.
With Cummings just now starting to practice with the first team, I have the suspicion that Dominic Kinnear's starting XI for the second leg will be fairly similar to that of the first leg and the season opener against D.C. United - that 4-4-1-1/4-5-1/4-2-3-1 or however you want to describe it, with Will Bruin (theoretically) as the lone striker. The brief play we saw from Andrew Driver was good, but I'm not sure he's quite ready to be thrown out there for a full ninety minutes - though there were times (especially that near-chance that ended with a poor pass) where Driver and Bruin seemed to make a good tandem. Still, I expect to see a five man midfield in some form, and I think that might help their chances down in Mexico.
The Dynamo had an edge in most statistical categories in the first leg, despite a slim edge to Santos in possession. I think that had as much to do with their confidence at home as their tactics - and I don't think we'll see that kind of split in Torreón Wednesday. That being said, the performance of the back line - and the rest of the defensive effort - leads me to think that they'll still be able to shut down Santos, at least for periods of time.
And in reality, that's all you can expect them to do, I think. While I have faith in Tally Hall and the back line to keep it from turning in to a rout, I highly doubt that a clean sheet is something that the Dynamo are going to take home from Mexico. There will be goals - of that, I have no doubt. The question is when in the match they will come - and from whom? Strikers like Will Bruin and Herculez Gomez were quieted in the first leg, but how long can they be tied up? Sooner or later, one of them (or both of them) will get a goal.
The question will be whether or not the Dynamo will be able to keep one Santos goal from turning into a flood of them - the story of CCL play in Torreón since the competition began. I believe they can. As I said before, I don't think we'll see a clean sheet here - for either side. We're back to what I've described as that battle à outrance - Santos is confident that they can erase their deficit and advance, and the Dynamo seem to be confident that they can go down to Estadio Corona and give a good account of themselves.
Time will tell whose confidence will be justified. Including the possible extra time (only possible if Santos leads 1-0 at the end of regulation), two hours of play stand between one side and the semifinals. Nobody said that silverware was easy to claim, and the Dynamo can take another step to claiming some if they can manage to get out of Torreón with an aggregate win.