HOUSTON – His team had just lost 1-0, victims of an 89th-minute winner after generally controlling play for the previous 88 minutes, but Santos Laguna manager Pedro Caixinha was calm and collected.
Voice steady. Tie just so. Above all, tidy in defeat. But worried? Please.
If you expected Santos to be concerned – or even the slightest bit anxious – after dropping the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against the plucky Houston Dynamo on Tuesday, think again.
Anxiety simply isn’t in the Mexican side’s DNA, especially since the task in front of them remains relatively unchanged ahead of next week's second leg in Torreón, Mexico (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer). Santos must win by two goals in regulation or protect a 1-0 scoreline through extratime and take care of business from the penalty spot to book a spot against either Tigres UANL or the Seattle Sounders.
Certainly nothing they haven't done before.
CCL Match Recap: Houston Dynamo 1, Santos Laguna 0
“I believe that the only thing missing here today was the goal,” Caixinha said. “The goal is the most important thing in football, and we haven’t managed that, but like I said we are at halftime. We are hurt and in one week we are going to be playing again, though we have a game in between. I don’t want to talk about the return leg, but I believe Houston is going to have a bad time, very bad.”
The Dynamo, of course, know the odds aren't exactly in their favor.
Road games in Estadio Corona, especially second legs, haven’t been kind to MLS sides. Just ask the Sounders, who knocked off Santos 2-1 in Seattle last year before absorbing a 6-1 quarterfinal beatdown in the return, and Toronto FC, who drew the first leg of the semifinal series at home before being smacked 6-2 in the deciding game.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder Santos aren’t especially alarmed by their current deficit.
“For us, it’s business as usual,” forward Herculez Gomez said. “We’re not in panic mode. We’re pretty calm about this. In the locker room, I didn’t see guys freaking out or thinking that this still wasn’t in our control. It’s not the desired result but we’re very calm and we’re very aware that there is still 90 minutes to play. It happens to be in our backyard.”
Like they did in Houston, the Dynamo will almost surely look to probe Santos' sturdy backline on the counter attack. It’s a gameplan that created a handful of chances, including a few missed opportunities that may well come back to haunt them.
Santos, meanwhile, were wasteful with their own opportunities, and both Caixinha and Gomez seemed confident that 1-0 won't be enough to end Los Guerreros' Club World Cup dreams.
“If I’m being unbiased, maybe 2-0, 3-0 would have been a better result for Houston,” Gomez said. “I think [1-0] still puts us in pretty good position. But they’re a very good team. They make it difficult. … It’s going to be fun battle, man. Two good teams going at it. Sometimes it wasn’t the prettiest football, but there’s a lot of respect for one another.”