DYNAMO ADVANCE TO CCL QF

Five quick kicks from Dynamo vs. Guastatoya

The Houston Dynamo debutted their new "Energy" kit agaisnt CD Guastatoya. Photo by Diego Dlouhy/SportsMap Houston.

The Houston Dynamo had to wait a bit longer than they expected to play their first home match of the year - a two and a half hour rain delay pushed the second leg of their Round of 16 series from its original kickoff time. Once under way, however, it was anything but a cakewalk against Guatemalan champions CD Guastatoya. In the end, a Mauro Manotas brace earned the team the series win and the qualification to the quarterfinals of the 2019 Concacaf Champions League.

1) Cabrera's lineup risk pays off

Dynamo Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera made four changes from last week's starting XI, the first leg of this series that was played in Guatemala City. Juan David Cabezas got the night off while he still recovers from an injury he attained in the previous match while Tomas Martinez, Mauro Manotas and Alberth Elis were on the bench and replaced by Tommy McNamara, Ronaldo Peña and Marlon Hairston.

With the team's league opener on Saturday afternoon at BBVA Compass Stadium, it's no surprise that the manager would look to an alternate lineup to balance the workload this week. Playing his strongest lineup from the start and managing out the result, once secured, looked to be a better alternative but, in the end, the situation worked itself out. A series-tying goal by Guastatoya in the 72nd minute proved to be nothing more than a scare as Cabrera brought on the big guns late to rsolve the result.

2) Manotas and Elis show their impact

There's no doubt about the value that Manotas and Elis bring to the Dynamo offense. Elis provides a speed that allows him to breeze past defenders, especially if fresh off the bench like he was on Tuesday night. Manotas is one of the better shooters on target in Major League Soccer. They are impact players the Dynamo can count on to have a special moment when the team needs to create something in tough situations. These two are crucial to the success of the team and their consistency in the lineup will dictate how well the team performs throughout the course of the season. Without them on the field, the Dynamo are just another team "fighting hard" to get results. With them, they Dynamo can be a force to be reckoned with in MLS.

3) No Cabezas as Vera-Ceren manage the midfield

Speaking of impact players, the Dynamo were without defensive midfielder Juan David Cabezas on Tuesday night. The 28-year-old Colombian asked to be subbed out in the 69th minute of the first leg in Guatemala City and has been training separately in the past week. A "discomfort in the [muscular part of the] posterior of his right leg," as the player described it after that match, kept him out of the second leg. Manager Wilmer Cabrera said on Monday that the player "needs to rest a bit and we expect it will heal quickly. It wasn't too serious." After Tuesday's second leg, Cabrera added that the player looks to heal "sooner than we expect" but that he cannot consider him for playing time until the player is able to rejoin the team in training.

Cabezas suffered a series of injury relapses in the 2018 season and his absence was influential on the team's failure to make the playoffs. The Dynamo reinforced the defense in the off-season in order to avoid the same problem in 2019. Darwin Ceren and Matias Vera, tasked with the work in midfield, are still adjusting to each other in their second professional match together. Cabrera mentioned the following of the two after the match:

"I think they were a bit erratic with their passing, with the ball. They lost two, three balls - especially before the first half, they lost two or three balls that they should not lose as central midfielders. They can not lose it, so we talked about it half the time and the good thing is that they corrected it in the second half."

With uncertainty revolving around Cabeza's injury problems, Dynamo fans may see more of Vera and Ceren than they expected to this season. The two will need to adjust quicker as the season revs up with five matches over the next two weeks - assuming MLS doesn't make adjustments to the schedule to help the Dynamo manage their Champions League workload.

4) Still unknowns as MLS opening match looms

Take the result against Guastatoya for what it's worth. The Dynamo were considered the favorites against the Guatemalan back-to-back champions but Saturday's season opener against Real Salt Lake will provide a better barometer of how well the team have prepared in preseason. Guastatoya were limited in attack and were not able to capitalize on the weaknesses the Dynamo showed over the course of the two matches. RSL will have a roster better equipped to do that and Liga MX side Tigres UANL, the team's next opponent in the Concacaf Champions League, even more so.

In the end, the wins against Guastatoya were a pair of morale boosting victories to start the season on a high note but now the real test begins.

5) A date with Tigres UANL

Tigres UANL will be the Dynamo's next opponent in the Concacaf Champions League. This series will have several appealing elements. One will be the obvious rivalry and national pride that comes with any MLS vs. Liga MX matchup. The regional aspect will make it easier for fans to travel since the teams are less than 500 miles apart. There's also a strong presence of Monterrey-area natives that live in Houston and throughout Texas that will show up to support their team at BBVA Compass Stadium. Finally, the star-power of international players like Argentina's Nahuel Guzman, Mexico's Carlos Salcedo, Chile's Eduardo Vargas and France's Andre-Pierre Gignac will add the allure of a big game to this series.

Dynamo player of the game:

Mauro Manotas. The player signed a three-year extension with the team last week and mentioned his ambition to become the team's all-time scorer before his contract with the club comes to an end, a task that just seems like a matter of time before it happens. He shattered the team's single-season record with 25 goals across all competitions in 2018, finishing top five in the league. On Tuesday, he came off the bench in the second half and took care of business.

Next up: Saturday, March 2nd vs. Real Salt Lake (5:00 p.m., KUBE57)

Courtesy Houston Dynamo

The Houston Dynamo were held to a 1-1 draw by the Portland Timbers on Wednesday night at BBVA Compass Stadium. Mauro Manotas opened the scoring for Houston in the 40th minute. Portland tied it in the 77th thanks to Liga MX's second top scorer for the Clausura 2019 season, Brian Fernandez, in his MLS debut.

Here are five observations from the win:

1) A missed opportunity

The Dynamo will lament dropping two points at home to a club that has never left Houston with a win. Add on top of that the detail that Portland has played its entire schedule, up to this point, on the road.

The Timbers should've been ripe for the pickings against a Dynamo that has been strong at home and had won every league match except one coming into this game. That non-win was a draw in the home opener against Real Salt Lake, nothing to get too worked up about as both teams were in early season form.

This draw will sting, however, because the Dynamo took the lead and had an opportunity to jump up to second place in the Western Conference standings. Clubs like D.C. United and Sporting KC, with an away game to Minnesota United sandwiched in between, are what's next on the schedule and Portland's performance will give away teams confidence to leave BBVA Compass Stadium with a positive result.

2) Beasley returns as part of lineup rotation

Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera made three changes from the starting XI at Seattle on Sunday. The lineup rotation is due to the team's schedule of three matches in a week.

The most notable of the changes was the return of DaMarcus Beasley at left back. The U.S. Men's National Team Legend and team captain had yet to play in league matches and was sidelined during the team's Concacaf Champions League elimination at Tigres UANL in March.

Aljaz "Kiki" Struna, one of the team's biggest offseason acquisitions, also returned to the starting XI being left out of the team that traveled to Seattle. Boniek Garcia also returned as a starter after featuring as a sub in the 1-0 away loss over the weekend.

3) Manotas the Timberslayer

Mauro Manotas now has seven regular season goals against Timbers FC, his highest against an MLS club. He's also enjoyed his only MLS hat-trick as well as an important playoff performance against Portland.

More to the context of this season, Manotas picked up his fifth goal to ascend as the team's top scorer. The Colombian continues his way towards another high scoring season as he complements the playmaking of Alberth Elis.

He scored with his chest which only further emphasizes his knack to find the back of the net no matter the fashion. He will be needed again on Sunday as D.C. United visit with one of the world's famed goalscorers in Wayne Rooney.

4) Dependence on Elis

As much as Manotas deserves praise for his goals with the Dynamo, it is Alberth Elis who has been the team's most valuable player. Elis has banked four goals and five assists.

Manotas himself has five goals and four assists but Elis would be missed more on the field if the team were to lose one of the two. Elis has been a player teams absolutely have to account for and, when he is contained - as we've seen in the two Dynamo losses this year and the draw on Wednesday, the team struggles to yield wins.

Nobody should be surprised that Elis has been the focal point of opposing defenses, it was expected. What is surprising is that the Dynamo have yet to respond to that strategy and punish teams for being asked to win without him - not to mention prepare in case of the Honduran's departure in the summer transfer window.

5) Big Joe with big saves

During Cabrera's tenure as the Manager of the Dynamo, the goalkeeper spot has always been up for debate and rotations at that position are not rare. Not this season.

Joe Willis has absolutely taken command of the spot both in league action and earlier in the team's Concacaf Champions League run. There is no question between his level of play and his backups.

The Dynamo would've dropped all three points at home without Willis on Wednesday. For that reason, he is the man of the match and an unspoken hero on the team sheet.

Dynamo player of the game: Joe Willis

Next up:

Saturday, April 18 vs D.C. United (7:30 p.m. CT, KUBE57) [ESPN+ for U.S. non-Houston markets]

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