The Houston Dynamo take on Club Santos Laguna in the CONCACAF Champions League this evening at BBVA Compass Stadium in the home leg of the series. This match is vital for the Dynamo as they look to get out to a big lead and attempt to stifle the creative offense of US National, Herculez Gomez. Major League Soccer did manage to offer the Dynamo a bit of a reprieve from previous CCL campaigns by working their league schedule to give a league "bye week" to the MLS side.
Over on SBNation.com, they ran a story ranking the CCL Quarterfinals Teams and included some good information on each team. Below is what they had to say about both the Dynamo and Santos.
5. Houston Dynamo
Houston got through their group despite playing mostly reserves in all four games (example: Will Bruin played all of 6 minutes in the four matches). Despite the presence of Honduran powerhouse CD Olimpia, Dominic Kinnear's B team avoided slip-ups and benefited from Olimpia's 2-1 loss at CD F.A.S. One got the sense that the good news was met with a shrug for a Dynamo side that notoriously puts more weight on their league performance.
Kinnear kept his entire MLS Cup starting eleven together, but Calen Carr's torn ACL in that game looms large. Kinnear's solution in Houston's season opener was to use Giles Barnes in a free role between Bruin and the Dynamo midfield, but results are at this point mixed. Despite having the better of play against D.C. United, Houston labored for long stretches to turn territorial control into genuine chances. They eventually broke through, but only via United right back James Riley's misplaced header.
There is also a big question over the team Houston will send out. If Kinnear doesn't want to start too many players on short rest, he's going to have to field another CCL reserve team. That worked in the group stage, but against Santos Laguna it would be a likely recipe for humiliation, even if certain back-ups like Warren Creavalle and Luiz Camargo are probably up for the challenge.
2. Club Santos Laguna
Runners-up in last year's CCL, Santos have shown a distinct knack at making the final in knockout play. They've made the final in three of the last five Liguillas to go with last year's 3-2 aggregate loss to Monterrey in the CCL. That's a strong record, but only winning one of those four ties with a cup on the line will raise at least some questions about this team's ability to finish the job.
That said, getting to the CCL final again will be very difficult. Houston has a strong record of being very tough against Mexican clubs, and if Los Guerreros see off the Dynamo they'll likely be playing Tigres UANL in the semifinal round. It could very well be that winning the final will be easier than actually getting there.
Santos is normally seen as a team with an overwhelming attack, but at the moment it's their defense doing the heavy lifting. Pedro Caixinha's men have let up just 6 goals in Liga MX play, allowing Santos to stay among the playoff teams despite struggling to score (at least until this past Friday's 3-1 win over Chiapas).
Despite their low goal-scoring total, Houston should be very worried about their trip to Estadio Corona. In last year's CCL knockout round, Santos scored six goals against MLS competition twice (6-1 over Seattle, 6-2 over Toronto FC). That would be something of a surprise given their current scoring form, but you can't rule it out when Santos is trying to select their forwards from Oribe Peralta, Herculez Gomez, Carlos Darwin Quintero, and Christian Suarez.
If you would like to read more of the Power Rankings, please click here.
The biggest intrigue coming into this match is what lineup each coach will throw out there, and which players will rise to the challenge. Dynamo Theory will be following live with our usual Live Game Thread, and you can also follow along via Twitter by following @DynamoTheory.