HOUSTON – The Houston Dynamo entered Tuesday night's CONCACAF Champions League first-leg quarterfinal match looking for a lead to take with them in the return leg with Santos Laguna.
But that wasn't all this match was about. Part of this game was getting an idea of how the two teams matched up. And while the Dynamo would have liked more, Tuesday’s performance showed that the two teams are not that far apart.
"I’ve never really seen Mexican football and they’re a good side,” said midfielder Giles Barnes. “They pop the ball around well, but football’s a results business. They’ve come here, they’ve played well but we’ve played and we’ve got the result. I think we should be judged for the winning. I think we’ve done a good job and I think it answers a few things for the MLS as well.”
The Orange outshot Santos 16-10 and put four attempts on goal, one more than the Liga MX club, and Houston were able to corral Santos' speed and limit space for Los Guerreros to slice up the defense with sharp passing sequences. The few chances Santos did create either ended with an easy save from goalkeeper Tally Hall or the ball landing in the stands, as the Dynamo claimed a shutout.
“The back five were excellent,” goalkeeper coach Tim Hanley said in the postmatch press conference. “They have excellent players, as you saw tonight. For our team to keep a clean sheet and keep a zero is excellent. This is what we’re supposed to do, come here and get a win and the guys did it.”
History shows that it's dangerous to draw conclusions from the first leg of these series, however, especially where Santos are concerned. After losing and drawing close opening legs in last year's CCL knockout rounds against the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC, respectively, Santos annihilated their MLS foes 12-3 at home in the return leg.
“The goals feel a little bit bigger in Mexico,” Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall said with a smile. “They’re especially good at home. We’re probably going to expect a better team when we go to their place. How do we prepare for that? We do the same things.”
Added Barnes: “We know in the back of our head we’ve got a goal lead, but we’ll treat it as a nil-nil and we’ll want to go for the win. Everyone’s seen us play. We’re a very resilient lot and the hard work should keep us going.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.