FC Dallas (FCD) opens their Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) Semifinal round against LigaMX side C.F. Pachuca (Tuzos) tonight at 7:00 C.D.T. at Toyota Park in Frisco.
Pachuca, a city of 256,000 people that is roughly 5o miles northeast of Mexico City, is one of the oldest soccer clubs in Mexico. The club has had recent success in international competition, winning our Confederation’s club championship four times since 2002. During that run, they also were the first CONCACAF club to win a South American Championship when they were crowned Copa Sudamericana Champions in 2006. The club is led by goal scoring leader-Argentinian Franco Jara, Uruguayan Jonathan Urretaviscaya, center-backs Oscar Murillo and Omar Gonzalez and legendary 44 year old goalkeeper Oscar Perez. The Tuzos will be missing young Mexican international, Hirving Lozano, who is out with a long-term injury.
Historically, MLS teams have struggled when playing Mexican opponents in the CCL. Since the Confederation club championship was reformatted away from the Champions Cup to a new Champions League competition in 2008, MLS and LigaMX clubs have played each other 18 times in two-legged CCL competitions. Unfortunately, MLS has only won two of these match ups (Seattle in 2012/13 and Montreal in 2014/15). Coincidentally, the LigaMX sides that did lose were Tigres and Pachuca, the two Mexican representatives in this years semifinal.
This year promises to be every bit as difficult as prior years. Last night, Tigres won at home against MLS-side Vancouver Whitecaps FC and took a 2-0 lead into the second leg a few weeks from now in Canada. The Whitecaps were unlucky to give up an own-goal to fall behind in the second half, but to be fair, they sacrificed the overwhelming majority of the possession, rarely threatened and were never really in this game. FCD faces an in-form Pachuca team tonight. After 9 matches they are currently tied for first place in the LigaMX Clausura tournament. Mexican teams have an advantage in this tournament because they are fully involved in their season, while MLS teams have only played 2 regular season games to this point. When this is combined with the significantly higher salary structure of LigaMX, the competitive challenge becomes daunting. Pachuca also comes into this game well rested, because the referee strike in Mexico cancelled all LigaMX matches last weekend.
Despite those advantages, many feel that FCD can be one of the most competitive teams MLS has ever put on the field against LigaMX opposition. The introduction of new spending mechanisms in the form of Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) introduced by MLS, combined with funds generated from the sale of Fabian Castillo last summer, makes this Dallas side one of the deepest and most talented in MLS history.
It is important that FCD attacks early to build as much of an aggregate goal lead as possible (also avoiding a Tuzos away goal) because the return leg at 7,900+ altitude Pachuca in early April promises to be extremely challenging, to say the least.
Of note, Omar Gonzalez, a Dallas native and U.S. international, will be playing his first competitive game for the Tuzos in his home state. MLS.com and Dallas writer Charles Boehm has a great story (link below) with interesting background information on how Omar went from his upbringing in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas and the Dallas Texans youth soccer club to the star he has become today.