Cabrera: CCL run "set the bar" for Houston Dynamo's 2019 MLS ambitions

Over the years many MLS teams participating in the Concacaf Champions League have seen their fitness, form and results suffer in league play afterwards, so much so that the “CCL hangover” has become a recurring talking point, with Toronto FC’s 2018 woes the most striking recent example.

Not so much for the Houston Dynamo this season, however – more like “CCL launching pad,” to hear players and coaches tell it.

Despite crashing out of CCL via a 3-0 aggregate quarterfinals loss to Mexican giants Tigres UANL, the Dynamo are now 3-0-1 in MLS play after Saturday’s 4-1 away rout of the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, giving them a share of second place in both the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings.

“In the Concacaf Champions League we were solid against Guastatoya [in the Round of 16], and then the game that we played in Monterrey, we were even against Tigres,” head coach Wilmer Cabrera said after Saturday’s big win.

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“That helped us to set the tone, to set the bar and to understand that we have a good plan, we’ve been working well and with the new additions, we are an organized team, a team that can play. In moments we can have good possession, in moments we can go and attack the way we like to attack, and in moments we need to be solid defensively. That’s important.”

Goalkeeper Joe Willis emphasized the value of the earlier report date to preseason and busy early slate in helping bed in winter acquisitions like Matias Vera and Tommy McNamara.

“Having so many games early on, you kind of get up to speed a little bit quicker maybe than some of the other MLS teams,” said Willis. “We’re coming into our seventh or eighth game right now, a lot of teams have only played three. So it’s big for our chemistry, especially when you bring in new players. It gives them more time to gel and more time to play with each other and get to know each other.”

As Cabrera noted, this year’s squad have shown signs of a well-roundedness that eluded them in their previous two seasons under his leadership, when they were deadly in transition but often lacked alternative ways to play.

“We've been playing some good soccer. I think what's helping us a lot is we're keeping the ball a little bit more, guys moving, attacking,” said Homegrown Memo Rodriguez, Houston’s surprise leading scorer to date with four goals in four MLS matches. “Defensively we're sharp, everybody's defending as a team and I think that's important for us moving forward.

“If we can’t attack right away, we keep the ball and swing it and go the other way. I think it’s important for us just to keep the ball – keeping the ball is the best defense, and I think we’re doing a very good job of that.”

Perhaps just as crucially for their hopes of another trophy to add to last year’s U.S. Open Cup title, the Dynamo look more comfortable away from BBVA Compass Stadium. After winning just three league road games combined over 2017 and 2018, the Dynamo have already bagged two victories out of three away matches across CCL and MLS action.

“Yeah, it’s big-time,” said Willis on Saturday. “It’s one thing to get the wins at home, but the past couple of years playing on the road has been a struggle for us. So early on in the season, it’s huge for our confidence to get this win. And the way we did it, to score four goals, it’s big for us moving forward.”

After a week off, the Dynamo will face the San Jose Earthquakes on April 13 at BBVA Compass Stadium.