Thanks to a wonderful run through the U.S. Open Cup, crescendoing with a 3-0 win in front of their home supporters over the Philadelphia Union in September to lift the trophy, the Houston Dynamo are going on a continental adventure this season.
The Dynamo are one of five MLS sides to qualify to the Concacaf Champions League round of 16 and drew Guatemalan side Guastatoya, playing matches on Feb. 19 and 26. Head coach Wilmer Cabrera is looking forward to the challenge.
“You have to be very ambitious, because if you don’t think big then you cannot achieve anything," Cabrera told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. "Realistic? That’s different. We’re ambitious, but we have to be realistic, you have to create that balance. It will help to prepare you very well to have great expectations, but be humble enough to understand it’s a very difficult competition.”
With their MLS season opener days following their second leg against Guastatoya, and a congested fixture list to follow should the club advance past Guastatoya, the Dynamo will need a deep squad to compete on both fronts. With Toronto FC's 2018 injury-plagued nightmare as a potential fallout, the Dynamo are careful not to follow suit and see their MLS campaign become an uphill battle from the jump.
The club have added Chris Duvall and Marlon Hairston from within the league, acquired midfielder Matias Vera and defender Kiki Struna from abroad while also signing Sam Junqua (SuperDraft) and Erik McCue (Homegrown).
“We are trying to create a big enough squad, that’s the ambitious mentality," Cabrera said. "We’re trying to create what we believe can be deep enough to deal with two competitions, but we’ll see if reality is different.”
Most importantly, the Dynamo have kept hold of their stars, namely Alberth Elis, for the moment at least. The Honduran winger has been public with his desire to head to Europe, though no club have met Houston's asking price. He also said he's content to play out 2019 in Houston and will be professional.
“I’m very happy, we want to have a good squad," Cabrera said of Elis. "At the same time, I want the players to be happy. He needs to be happy for him to be performing well."
Over his first two seasons in MLS, Elis has scored 21 goals and added 14 assists in 56 appearances. Last season, despite having 10 goals and 11 assists, it felt like the soon-to-be 23-year-old had more to give, such is a testament to his mercurial talent.
“I don’t know [what he can accomplish in 2019]," Cabrera added. "That depends on his preparation, mentality, commitment and professionalism. If he does what he’s been doing, it’s going to be good. If he wants to go to Europe, not only does he have to repeat that, he has to improve. It’s on him.”