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CCL Preview, Match 4: Arabe Unido vs Houston Dynamo

Thursday night, the Houston Dynamo switch gears from their pursuit of a playoff spot in order to try and secure a spot in the knockout round of the CONCACAF Champions League. To do so, they'll have to get at least a draw against Arabe Unido down in Panama - and do so without some of their best players. Can it be done?

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it all has come down to this. Two competitions. Two matches. Two results needed. Thursday night, the Houston Dynamo travel to Panama for the first of two crucial matches to be played over the next few days. In this case, it's for the CONCACAF Champions League finale, and their foe is Árabe Unido.

The Dynamo are sitting pretty on top of the group, but they're not yet guaranteed a spot in the knockout stages. Whether or not they get there will all depend on what result they can take out of this match. A win or a draw will see them through, while a loss would knock them out and instead see the Panamanians advance.

This will be the second meeting between the two clubs this season, with the Dynamo having won their meeting in Houston on 27 August by a score of 2-1. Cam Weaver scored both goals for Houston, and the match gained notoriety after Arabe Unido went ahead on an early penalty kick and then proceeded to wear out the stretcher crews in an attempt to slow down the pace and deny the home side any rhythm - a tactic that Dynamo fans should expect to see again, should the Panamanian side take a lead at any point.

It should also be noted that with the MLS season finale in Washington, D.C. this weekend, the Dynamo have not brought their full roster down to Panama. Notably absent are Boniek Garcia and Brad Davis, and one must assume that they're being rested in order to be at full speed for the season finale (of course, bringing Davis back to Panama so soon after the qualifier about a week ago probably wouldn't have gone over well).

At first glance, the roster appears to be a balancing act. There's a number of starters there, but you wonder how many of them will be seeing significant time, especially with the match on Sunday being so critical. In the end, it will come down to whether or not the Dynamo truly want this berth. If they play like they'd been playing for most of the last month, they should be able to secure a favorable result. If they play as they did in their last match, that might not be as likely.

In the end, all we really know is that the matter will be settled on Thursday night. Ninety minutes separate the Dynamo from the knockout stages of the Champions League. Will they still be on top at the end of it? Only time will tell.