The Houston Dynamo continue their Concacaf Champions League adventure on Tuesday night with a quarterfinal first-leg visit from mighty Tigres UANL (10 pm ET; YahooSports.com, UDN), the class of Liga MX for most of the past decade. And the Dynamo have no illusions about the magnitude of the task in front of them.
“It's nice to have them here, and we need to be sure that we are very well prepared,” said head coach Wilmer Cabrera with a wry smile in Monday’s pre-match press conference, “because they are good.
“We need to go all the way in until we go through or we just go out,” he added. “I think our players have the mentality that they just want to play, and they’re proud to face one of the favorites – or the favorite team. They’re proud, they’re happy and they’re excited about the game.”
The Dynamo-Tigres matchup looks like the most daunting of the four quarterfinal series involving MLS teams, and Houston goalkeeper Joe Willis called the Monterrey-based side the favorites to win the whole tournament.
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“As a soccer player you always want to test yourself against the best opponents, and I think in the Americas they're one of the top teams,” said Willis. “They're doing really well in the Mexican league right now, they have a big history and like Wilmer said, they're probably the favorite for the Champions League.”
Winners of four Liga MX championships, three Campeon de Campeones trophies and one Copa MX title since 2011 as well as runners-up finishes in the 2015 Copa Libertadores and two editions of CCL during that time, Tigres also top the current Liga MX standings and are as packed with elite talent as any team in North America.
One player they will not have on Tuesday is star French striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, who did not make the trip up to Houston due to his inability to play multiple matches in a week.
“He's obviously a very good player but they have a lot of good players. They still have [Julian] Quinones, [Enner] Valencia, [Eduardo] Vargas. I know Gignac didn't play much in the [round of 16] games against Saprissa and they scored four, five goals,” said Willis. “They have a lot of depth and they’re able to score without him.”
It all adds up to one of the biggest occasions in Dynamo history, with unseasonably cold conditions in the Bayou City adding a further dramatic wrinkle for Leg 1.
“The pressure's on them for sure, because they are the favorite, they are expected to win,” said Willis. “That being said, it's going to be a big game for us. I'm sure guys will feel nerves at the beginning of the game and beforehand, but once the kickoff starts and you start getting into the rhythm of the game, the nerves kind of dissipate. I think we're going to be pretty hyped for it. It's a huge game for us.”