HOUSTON – It took the Dynamo 89 minutes to draw first blood in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Santos Laguna at BBVA Compass Stadium on Tuesday night. Come next Wednesday, Houston will have to brave 90 more minutes as the Mexican side attempts to even the score.
With the match seemingly destined for a scoreless draw, substitute Brad Davis and Corey Ashe combined to shred a previously stout Santos backline with just minutes remaining, opening up enough space on the left flank for the midfielder to slip a low, left-footed finish just inside the back post.
Houston are now 6-2-2 in CCL play at home, scoring 17 goals while giving up just eight. They also stretched their home unbeaten streak in all competitions to 32 games.
The teams will meet next on March 13 in Torreón, Mexico (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer), to decide who will move on to face the winner of the quarterfinal series between Tigres UANL and the Seattle Sounders.
Houston, who were without head coach Dominic Kinnear because of a suspension stretching over from the group stage, made one change to their season-opening XI against D.C. United, as Warren Creavalle replaced Davis. Santos manager Pedro Caixinha fielded a strong lineup that included eight of 11 regular starters – including United States international Herculez Gomez, fresh off a two-goal effort against Jaguares.
The first half started slowly, with both teams generating a fleeting look each from outside the 18-yard box that was never a threat to find the frame and landed high in the stands.
But that initial feeling-out period didn’t last long, as both sides began picking their passes more carefully and finding creases in the opposing defense. Still, no goal would come in a back-and-forth first 45 minutes.
Santos’ Darwin Quintero, in particular, was a menace early on, floating behind forwards Oribe Peralta and Gomez and popping up in dangerous positions. Houston, meanwhile, created their chances through collective industry rather than individual flair.
The first legitimate scoring opportunity for either side came in the 18th minute when Boniek García’s corner kick found the head of center back Bobby Boswell at the near post. Boswell nodded his effort down and on target, but Creavalle accidentally blocked the ball off the line as he attempted to screen goalkeeper Oswaldo Sánchez, allowing Santos to clear the danger.
A minute later, a mistake by Tally Hall in the Dynamo goal nearly gifted Santos an early lead and all-important away goal. Jermaine Taylor played the ball back on the ground, but Hall’s clearance was scuffed and went directly to Gomez, who played the streaking Quintero in on goal. Uncharacteristically, the Colombian put his effort high into the seats.
Both sides made a single change at halftime, with Davis coming on for Creavalle to complete a first-choice Dynamo lineup and Nestor Calderón replacing Marc Crosas in the Santos midfield.
The Mexican side came out with a bit more verve than they were able to muster in the first half, but Houston answered in kind until Peralta missed a golden opportunity in the 57th minute.
Unsurprisingly, Quintero started the move, putting Gomez in behind in the right channel. Gomez’s chipped ball to the back post fell to the Mexican international, who swiveled and hit the ball on the half volley with power directly into Hall’s bread basket.
Houston’s answer came in the 68th minute from a set-piece opportunity on the right flank. Davis, whose service had left something to be desire previously, found Boswell's head, but the header toward the back post was easily caught by Sánchez.
In need of a goal – or at least a steadying presence to hold up the ball and relieve pressure – Houston sent on Brian Ching in the 70th minute for Giles Barnes. Caixinha responded by sending Andrés Rentería on for Gomez two minutes later.
From there, the physicality picked up as both teams pushed for the winner, with Santos center back Felipe Baloy picking up a yellow for catching García with a high boot followed by the Honduran earning the same for snuffing out a counter attack with a late challenge.
But nobody could stop Ashe and Davis as they marauded down the left flank to create the winner, pinging the ball back and forth before the veteran slipped the ball inside the back post.
Houston debutant Andrew Driver nearly gave the Dynamo a two-goal advantage as time ran out, but he couldn't get the ball out from under his feet after being put through on goal.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Corey Ashe||Put in a strong defensive showing against the electric Carlos Darwin Quintero and contributed in attack, all capped by his smart feed to Davis for the winner|
|2||Felipe Baloy||The hulking center back was all over the place (in a good way), snuffing out Dynamo chances across the back and imposing himself physically on the game|
|3||Brad Davis||Struggled with his delivery early after coming on, but as he started to find his groove, so did the Dynamo. Provided a perfectly-placed finish on the equalizer|