CONCACAF Champions League: Group 1 preview
Group 1 (HOU) | Group 2 (SKC) | Group 5 (MTL, SJ) | Group 8 (LA)
How they qualified: 2012 Panamanian Torneo Apertura winners
Coach: Jair Palacios (COL)
Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2009-10)
Outlook: Árabe have enjoyed plenty of success since their 1994 foundation, with 10 Panamanian league titles to their name, most recently the Apertura 2012 title that secured their participation in the tournament. They are back for the first time since 2010-11 and actually have some history with the Dynamo, having edged them in the 2009-10 group stage to reach the quarterfinals. In that tournament, the two teams played to a 1-1 draw in Panama and Houston won 5-1 in the States, but Árabe were able to secure results elsewhere to advance.
Well-traveled striker Orlando Rodríguez has returned to the club after a stint in Ecuador and will lead the line looking to improve on the eight goals he scored in the 2009-10 edition of the tournament. Rodríguez will be the target for Panama U-20 international Abdiel Arroyo, who got off to a flying start in the CCL with a pair of assists in the group-opening 3-1 win over W Connection. Further back, Jair Palacios' men will count on a fairly young defense highlighted by Panama international right back Harold Cummings, who was part of the country's 2013 Gold Cup squad.
How they qualified: 2012 MLS Cup runners-up
Coach: Dominic Kinnear (USA)
Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2008-09, 2012-13); semifinals (Champions' Cup, 2007, 2008)
Outlook: The Dynamo are cementing themselves in the MLS playoff race, and if years past are any indication, Kinnear & Co. will set the first teamers on that task while giving a look to some of the lesser-used players in CCL play.
That doesn't mean the Dynamo aren't taking this competition seriously, though. Their quarterfinal elimination last time around at the hands of Santos Laguna still rankles, and they will be looking for revenge with what veteran forward Brian Ching calls their best squad yet. Highlighting the likely CCL players is newly signed Honduran playmaker Alex López, who will get a chance to show his worth in a region he's plenty familiar with. Given the strength of their roster and experience in the competition, they should have a straightforward time navigating the group stage.
How they qualified: 2013 CFU Club Championship Group 1 winners
Coach: Stuart Charles-Fevrier (LCA)
Best Finish: Group stage (2009-10); quarterfinals (Champions' Cup, 2007)
Outlook: Caribbean teams have traditionally struggled in the CCL, largely due to financial constraints and facilities and talent levels that compare unfavorably to their North and Central American counterparts. W Connection, who most famously upset New York to reach the group stage in the 2009-10 competition, haven't shown much to indicate they'll cause a shock in Group 1, but will likewise be looking to shock anyone traveling to Trinidad and Tobago looking for an easy win.
The squad doesn't boast too many recognizable names, though former Sporting KC center back Daneil Cyrus will get another chance to face MLS opposition and midfielders Silvio Spann and Clyde Leon are veteran Trinidad and Tobago internationals, with the former boasting experience in Europe and Japan. Having already suffered a 3-1 defeat against Árabe Unido and with more tough test to come, W Connection will be up against it to cause a shock in this group, but will nonetheless want to give a good account of themselves.
This should be Houston's group through and through. The Dynamo, whether it's the first-teamers or otherwise, are well-versed in the rigors of CONCACAF competition and once again look to be rounding into form as the MLS playoff push heats up. Árabe will be best-positioned of the two challengers to cause an upset, but will be hard-pressed to beat Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium, by far the simplest path to the quarterfinals.