DYNAMO ADVANCE TO CCL QF
Five quick kicks from Dynamo vs. Guastatoya
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)