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)

Christian Pulisic highlights Team USA's roster to face Chile on Tuesday night at BBVA Compass Stadium. Courtesy: Nike, Inc.

This week's international fixtures continue with a local connection to the action as the U.S. Men's National Team is set to host reigning South American Champion Chile at BBVA Compass Stadium. It will be the fourth match, and toughest test yet, for Manager Gregg Berhalter since being appointed to the position back in December.

Team USA is 3-0-0 under Berhalter after defeating Ecuador, 1-0, in a friendly last Friday in Orlando. The current roster includes 15 players who ply their trade domestically in Major League Soccer and is headlined by 20-year-old Bundesliga star Christian Pulisic, who will join Premier League club Chelsea this summer after a $73 million move.

Tickets still remain for tonight's match with just over half of the stadium expected to be full. Attendance has been an issue for the USMNT following their failure to qualify to the last year's FIFA World Cup, but the Harris County - Houston Sports Authority will be hoping to attract as big a crowd as possible in their efforts for Houston to be a 2026 FIFA World Cup host city.


International Friendlies

Among some of the other international friendlies that stood out where Venezuela's 3-1 victory over Argentina in Madrid, Spain. Despite it being an exhibition, much of the headlines after would be about Lionel Messi's window to win a championship with his home country. The FC Barcelona star left the national team after that match as an injury precaution. Among those that featured where also Atlanta United teammates Gonzalo Martinez (Argentina) and Josef Martinez (Venezuela), the latter scoring the final goal of the game via a penalty.

Mexico began life with their new coach Gerardo Martino with a 3-1 win over Chile in San Diego, California. The win provided many talking points and positives for El Tri as they, like the United States, prepare for this summer's Concacaf Gold Cup. Mexico hosts Paraguay on Tuesday night in Santa Clara, California.

Panama tied Brazil 1-1 in Portugal where former Houston Dynamo Adolfo Machado scored for the Central Americans in their historic draw with the five-time FIFA World Cup champs.

UEFA EURO 2020 qualifiers

One of the bigger international tournaments besides the FIFA World Cup is the European Championship. The 2020 edition, to be disputed across 12 European countries to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the competition, is undergoing it's qualification stage. One of the thrillers this week has been Germany's 3-2 win at rival Netherlands. France, the current World Champion, continues to look strong as they demolish their competition.

A local tie to the Euro 2020 qualifiers exists as Houston Dynamo defender Aljaz "Kiki" Struna started in both of Slovenia's matches this week, the two results ending in 1-1 draws to Israel and Macedonia.

For the defending European Champions Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo suffered an injury that saw him leave their 1-1 draw with Serbia. Overlapping to club competition, many wonder how big of a hit this could be for Juventus in their aim to win the UEFA Champions League.


Concacaf Nations League

All the participants in this summer's Concacaf Gold Cup are now confirmed after action wrapped up in the Nations League tournament. Houston Dynamo midfielder Darwin Ceren was one of the players involved in pivotal matches as he started and helped El Salvador win 2-0 over Jamaica.

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Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, Mar. 26

1:00 p.m. - [UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier] Armenia vs. Finland (ESPN3, Univision Deportes)

2:00 p.m. - [International Friendly] Morocco vs. Argentina (beIN Sports)

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier] Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Greece (ESPN3)

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier] Malta vs. Spain (ESPN+, Univision Deportes)

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier] Italy vs. Liechtenstein (ESPN+)

2:45 p.m. - [International Friendly] Czech Republic vs. Brazil (ESPN3)

7:00 p.m. - [International Friendly] USA vs. Chile (ESPN2, UniMas)

9:00 p.m. - [International Friendly] Mexico vs. Paraguay (UniMas)

Wednesday, Mar. 27

1:00 p.m. - [UEFA Women's Champions League] PSG vs. Chelsea (beIN Sports)

7:30 p.m. - [Copa Libertadores] Cruzeiro vs. Deportivo Lara (beIN Sports)

Friday, Mar. 29

2:30 p.m. - [Bundesliga] Hoffenheim vs. Bayer 04 Leverkusen (FS2, Univision Deportes)

3:00 p.m. - [La Liga] Girona vs. Athletic Bilbao (beIN Sports)

Saturday, Mar. 30

7:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Fulham vs. Manchester City (NBC Sports)

9:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Freiburg vs. FC Bayern Munich (FS2, UniMas)

10:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Manchester United vs. Watford (NBC Sports)

10:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Brighton vs. Southampton (CNBC)

10:15 a.m. - [La Liga] FC Barcelona vs. Espanyol (beIN Sports)

12:30 p.m. - [Premier League] West Ham vs. Everton (NBC Sports)

12:30 p.m. - [La Liga] Celta Vigo vs. Villarreal (beIN Sports)

12:30 p.m. - [Bundesliga] RB Leipzig vs. Hertha BSC Berlin (FS2)

2:30 p.m. - [MLS] San Jose Earthquakes vs. LAFC (Twitter, Univision)

2:45 p.m. - [La Liga] Alaves vs. Atletico Madrid (beIN Sports)

8:00 p.m. - [MLS] Colorado Rapids vs. Houston Dynamo (KUBE57)

Sunday, Mar. 31

8:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Cardiff City vs. Chelsea (NBC Sports)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Hannover 96 vs. FC Schalke 04 (FS1, Univision Deportes)

10:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Liverpool vs. Tottenham (NBC Sports)

2:45 p.m. - [La Liga] Real Madrid vs. Huesca (beIN Sports)

5:30 p.m. - [MLS] Orlando City vs. D.C. United (FS1)

8:00 p.m. - [MLS] LA Galaxy vs. Portland Timbers (ESPN2)

Monday, Apr. 1

2:00 p.m. - [Premier League] Arsenal vs. Newcastle (NBC Sports)

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