Oh, what a difference one night makes. Just under 24 hours ago, Major League Soccer fans were celebrating Seattle’s historic achievement. A Mexican side had fallen in Champions League. The circumstances of Seattle’s win left the conclusions open to debate, but there was no denying: The win was historic (and fantastic).
Tonight, you can forgive Houston fans for no longer being in the mood. And after being reminded what a motivated Mexican titan can do, you can’t blame for being envious of the Sounders’ fortune.
Houston got the full Primera treatment tonight. They arrived in Torreon with a one goal lead, but against the first team from one of CONCACAF’s most talented teams, their 1-0 advantage didn’t even make it to the half hour mark. Defensive mistakes made it easy for Juan Pablo Rodriguez and Herculez Gomez to give Santos a 2-1 lead, and after Marc Crosas added insurance in the 77th minute, the early match feeling of inevitability was manifest on the scoreboard. Houston lost 3-0 and were eliminated from Champions League, 3-1.
For some perspective on this Dynamo team, let’s consider the form Houston carried into this game. This isn’t some scrappy, stumbling team that ran into a buzz saw. Over the first days of the season, Houston had defeated D.C. United and this same Santos side. They hadn’t allowed a goal, not even against a Guerreros team that started Oribe Peralta, Carlos Quintero, and Gomez at BBVA Compass Stadium. After two games, Houston looked every bit MLS Cup contender most expect them to be.
But in Torreon, there was no room for error. Perhaps Brad Davis could miss a penalty kick at home against D.C. United and expect his team to recover, but in Mexico you don’t have the luxury of giving up penalty kicks, even if your all-star-caliber goalkeeper saves the initial try. At a team like Santos, defensive mistakes become inexcusable. When you’re going up against one of the most stacked squads in region, your best defender and goalkeeper can’t afford miscommunication.
The Dynamo proved it in leg one: Major League Soccer teams are capable of competing with Mexico’s best. But the margin for error’s very slim. Unless you get a break like Seattle got on Tuesday, you’re going to have to be near mistake free, especially on the road. And Houston was nowhere near mistake free on Wednesday.
Santos moves on to face Seattle, who they eliminated 7-3 in last year’s quarterfinals. Houston gets to concentrate on their Major League Soccer season.