TORONTO – Hot on the heels of a crucial bounce-back match, the Houston Dynamo must prepare for another challenge as they make their debut in the Leagues Cup on Wednesday (8:30 pm ET | ESPN+, TUDN in US, TSN GO in Canada).
It was a performance they aim to carry back home to BBVA Stadium ahead of a clash with Mexican giants Club América in the inaugural edition of the new competition that pits MLS clubs against Liga MX rivals.
“It's a great opportunity to perform and get exposed with some very talented players and one of the best clubs in Mexico, and in Latin America,” said Dynamo coach Wilmer Cabrera after the win over TFC. “And it's at home. No matter what, whoever goes on the field, they're going to try to win.”
Dynamo defender AJ DeLaGarza, who will be lining up against his former LA Galaxy teammate Giovani dos Santos, sized up the opponents: “One of the most well-known teams in North America, huge tradition … Very good side; good test for us.”
Whenever the opportunity to prove one's mettle against a side like América is presented, it gets the competitive juices flowing.
“When we play teams like that, we want to win,” said Memo Rodriguez, who returned from injury against TFC and notched an assist. “Especially in front of our fans.”
The match comes at a tough time for La Naranja, who are seeking to claw their way back above the playoff line in the Western Conference.
“It's a difficult game for us, but we're going to do our best,” said Cabrera. “Some players will see minutes, some won't, because after that we have another game on the weekend.”
Liga MX sides have traditionally dominated the meetings between the two leagues, which have come primarily within the context of the Concacaf Champions League. The timing of that competition, with Mexican sides in midseason form and MLS sides coming out of a long preseason, is reversed in the Leagues Cup. América began their 2019 Torneo Apertura with a 4-2 win over CF Monterrey on Saturday night.
For DeLaGarza, though, that supposed benefit evaporates in the summer grind of an MLS schedule.
“We've played Wednesday-Saturday games for the last month and a half, so I wouldn't say anyone has the advantage at this point,” said the MLS veteran. “There's no right time to play these teams … They're in the beginning of their season [now] and when we play Champions League we're at the beginning of our season. They had a game [Saturday]; are they going to travel their first-team players or not? We don't know.
“It's a game and we have to be ready to play no matter who it is, when it is,” he added. “It's at our home field, even though it'll be a pro-Club América crowd. We've got to put on a good show, continue to do what we did tonight and get results.”
Pride, after all, is on the line, as the four MLS clubs involved represent the aspirations of their league.
“If we want respect, we have to do well in these tournaments,” said DeLaGarza. “Now we can't use the preseason bit as an excuse. We've got to pride ourselves, every MLS team will have to do that if we want to continue to close the gap on Liga MX.”
The Dynamo can look back on their recent encounter with Tigres UANL in March, falling 3-0 on aggregate in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, for insight.
“We knew it was going to be a tough match,” recalled Rodriguez. “We were toe-to-toe with them. Obviously we didn't come out with the victory, but we know we're capable of winning those games. It's going to take a lot of hard work from everybody, but we're trying to close that gap. It's a great challenge for us on Wednesday.”