After a four year absence from the competition, the Houston Dynamo return to the 2018-2019 version of the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) Tuesday night (9 p.m CST) (Yahoo Sports, Univision Deportes). The club automatically qualified into this years version of the CCL Round of 16 knockout stage when they won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in Houston last September.

The opening opponent for the Dynamo will be Guatemalan side CD Guastatoya, who qualified after winning a special two-legged playoff over Antigua GFC, scheduled when the suspension of the Guatemalan federation was lifted by FIFA. This will be the first appearance for Guastatoya (roughly 50 miles to the northeast of Guatemala City) in the CCL and they will play the opening match of the two-legged series “at home” in Guatemala City at the 26,000 seat National stadium, which is also the the home of top Guatemala first division side Municipal. The second leg will be played at BBVA Compass Stadium a week later.

This will be the second time the Dynamo have faced Guatemalan opposition in the CCL. Houston opened the 2008 CONCACAF Champions Cup (predecessor competition to the CCL) with a scoreless draw against Municipal in the same stadium as Tuesday nights fixture will be played. The lineup from this match (below) is a gallery of Dynamo (and MLS if you include Chris Wondolowski) legends, though Brad Davis and Stuart Holden missed this game. The Dynamo defeated Municipal 3-1 in the return leg at Robertson Stadium, thanks to two goals from the incomparable Dwayne DeRosario, and advanced to the quarterfinals.

Houston Dynamo vs. Municipal-3/12/2008 (Image Credit: Houston Dynamo Website)

The Dynamo have participated in the CONCACAF Champions Cup and CCL six previous times. Over the years Houston has played 32 matches in these competitions with a record of 12-10-10.

The club and their fans will hope that the run this year is more successful than the last time they played in this competition. Back in 2013-14 the tournament was organized differently. The Dynamo entered in the group stage, playing home and away against W-Connection from Trinidad and Arabe Unido from Panama. The Dynamo suffered an ugly away draw in the first group stage match against W Connection, a game they probably should have lost. Even though the Dynamo later beat Arabe Unido 6-2 on aggregate in their fixtures, they were eliminated in the group stage because Arabe Unido managed to find a way to win in Trinidad.

Here is my opinion (and memories) of the Top 5 games of the 32 overall the Dynamo have played so far in CONCACAF confederation competitions.

Top 5 Dynamo games in CONCACAF Competition

5: Dynamo-2 Puntarenas (Costa Rica)-0

2007 Champions Cup Quarterfinal second leg-3/1/07-College Station, TX

This match is memorable because, to the best of my knowledge, it was the first time a Houston professional soccer team hosted a match in an official international competition. To celebrate this momentous occasion the Dynamo were forced to move the game to College Station. At that time the Dynamo stadium was located on the campus of the University of Houston and the University looked unfavorably on weeknight games at Robertson Stadium during the school year, because the stadium parking lots were needed by night students.

The CONCACAF Champions Cup had far fewer participants than the current CCL format, so the first round was at the quarterfinal stage. The Dynamo opened in Costa Rica and suffered a 1-0 loss in extra time in their first ever international match to Costa Rica’s Puntarenas F.C. The match was played in humid conditions on a challenging pitch and the team just ran out of gas, since it was its first competitive match of the year. The match was physical and became further complicated when defender Eddie Robinson picked up his second yellow and was ejected in the 72nd minute. In the return leg the Dynamo were able to draw a nice home crowd at Aggie Soccer Stadium and won the match 2-0-advancing to the semifinals on a 2-1 aggregate score line. The experience of this team, which was in the middle of back-to-back MLS Cup titles, allowed the Dynamo to accomplish what was necessary, despite the lack of early season match fitness. Paul Dalglish and defender Kelly Gray scored off of rebounds, Gray’s game and series winner coming from a Brian Ching assist in the 74th minute.

4: Dynamo-2 San Francisco F.C. (Panama)-1 

2008-09 Champions League Group Stage-10/7/08-Robertson Stadium

2008 presented ridiculous schedule issues that were navigated by arguably the best roster in Dynamo history. All this quality was necessary to face a season that brought new meaning to the term “fixture congestion”, at least in North America. The Dynamo participated in 5 competitions: MLS Regular Season and Playoffs, both CONCACAF Champions Cup and Champions League (this was a transition year for the CONCACAF club competition), U.S. Open Cup and SuperLiga, a summer competition between MLS and LigaMX. The team also traveled to Hawaii in January to play in a Pan-Pacific preseason tournament. If that wasn’t enough, the Houston region was shut down by Hurricane Ike in September, forcing the Dynamo to reschedule matches including the final group stage match of the CCL.

When Panamanian side San Francisco F.C. arrived in Houston for an early October match, the Dynamo faced a virtual must win situation in the Champions League group stage. Draws in the first two group stage matches on the road, including the opener against San Francisco, meant that anything other than a win would have made advancing difficult.

Chris Wondolowski opened the scoring for Houston in the 13th minute, but San Francisco equalized on a chip over Dynamo backup goalie Tony Caig just after halftime. The Dynamo were having trouble breaking down the opponents and the crowd (myself included) identified the solution by starting to chant and yell at Head Coach Dominic Kinnear near the hour mark to knock it off and insert Dwayne DeRosario, who had started on the substitutes bench, into the match. DeRosario finally entered to a rousing ovation in the 74th minute and in typical fashion immediately made an impact. It seemed inevitable that he would score the game winner, and did in the 88th minute when he stole the ball at midfield and fired a rocket from the top of the box into the right side of the goal.

The importance of this victory became clear later when Houston lost the next home match to Pumas UNAM and were forced to win both remaining group stage matches, including the rescheduled game after the MLS season had ended, to advance to the next round.

3: Dynamo-1  Santos Laguna (Mexico)-0

2012-13 Quarterfinal first leg-3/5/13-BBVA Compass Stadium

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Brad Davis and Corey Ashe celebrate the game winner in the first leg of the Quarterfinal series against Santos Laguna (Image credit: Houston Dynamo Website)

After a depressing departure in the previous year’s Group Stage, the Dynamo were able to win a group that included Olimpia (Honduras) and FAS (El Salvador) with a 2-0-2 record, played during the second half of the 2012 MLS season. Houston went into the final group stage match vs. Olimpia only needing a draw because the Honduras side had conceded a 90th minute goal in their previous match and surprisingly lost to FAS. The Dynamo qualified for this version of the tournament as a result of their appearance in the previous years MLS Cup. Santos Laguna came into the quarterfinal match as the LigaMX Clausura winners and won all four of their group stage matches with a +12 goal differential.

Santos Laguna was an attractive matchup and a crowd of more than 17,000, including a number of supporters of the visitors, witnessed a superb match that the Dynamo won in the 89th minute on a strike from substitute midfielder Brad Davis. Santos Laguna fielded close to a first choice lineup, including star forward Darwin Quintero (now a Designated Player for Minnesota United), Mexican internationals Oribe Peralta and goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez, U.S. International Herculez Gomez and one of the top centerbacks in the region Panamanian Felipe Baloy.

The Dynamo were lucky to not concede in the first half because of a mistake by Tally Hall, but shortly after, Houston attacker Giles Barnes also had a chance when Sanchez became stranded. The only goal of the match came after a dogged second half effort by the Dynamo to allow them to head to the return leg with an advantage. After back-to-back corners, Corey Ashe combined with Davis to attack down the left side, with Ashe eventually sending a ball to Davis that he calmly slotted just inside the back post. Andrew Driver had a late chance to send Houston to the second leg with a two-goal advantage, but unfortunately wasn’t able to put it away.

The game was end-to-end all night and the Dynamo displayed an impressive tactical discipline throughout the match to shutout a dangerous opponent. Both teams managed just 5 shots on goal combined and Santos Laguna, despite their technical superiority, only had just a slight edge in possession (53-47%). The victory was only the second time (and still is) that Houston defeated a LigaMX team in CONCACAF competition and this one was well earned.

Unfortunately the one goal aggregate lead was not enough and the Dynamo exited the tournament after a blowout loss in Torreon a week later. Santos Laguna eventually made it to the tournament finals where they lost to fellow LigaMX side C.F. Monterrey.

Match highlights:

2: Dynamo-4 UNAM Pumas (Mexico)-4

2008-09 Champions League Group Stage-9/30/08-Mexico City

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Dynamo starting lineup in Champions League Group Stage away match against UNAM Pumas (Image credit: Houston Dynamo website)

In the middle of the crowded 2008 schedule described above, the Dynamo did something that no other MLS team had ever managed to accomplish to that point….get any kind of a result when playing a LigaMX team in Mexico. This ended a streak that included twelve games over 10 years where MLS teams had no success in Mexico. At the time it was the highest scoring Dynamo game in team history, and watching on TV that night, it delivered enough highs and lows for me to last for a long time. Curiously, all 8 goals were scored in a space of 50 minutes and I still remember the emotional swings today.

The Dynamo scored twice early, but unfortunately Stuart Holden was injured and had to be substituted a few minutes after the team went up 2-0. Pumas leveled in a space of 7 minutes after this injury, one of these goals coming when Holden was down on the ground and Pumas continued to play-running right by him on the way to goal. The Dynamo then retook the lead on a Kei Kamara penalty in the 33rd minute, his second of the night. Pumas returned the favor and scored twice before the halftime break to take the lead. Finally, defender Craig Waibel improbably also scored his second goal of the night a few minutes into the second half to end the scoring. Dwayne De Rosario had a chance for a game winner late. He blasted a rocket from well outside of the penalty area in second half stoppage time that unfortunately was right at the Pumas goalkeeper who was well off his line.

It is easier to understand why this team was the first ever MLS team to gain a point against a LigaMX opposition in Mexico when you consider the Dynamo players on the field that night. In addition to Kamara and Waibel, experienced MLS stars and key contributors like Pat Onstad, Bobby Boswell, Eddie Robinson, Wade Barrett, Brad Davis, Ricardo Clark, Corey Ashe and young future U.S. Internationals Stuart Holden and Geoff Cameron were in the starting lineup. Head coach Dominic Kinnear had the luxury of bringing experienced and, in some cases, MLS Best 11 talent like Dwayne DeRosario, Brian Mullan and Richard Mulrooney off the bench. To cap off how capable the roster was at the time, Dynamo legend Brian Ching wasn’t available for selection and the club still scored four goals against top opposition.

MLS teams have since enjoyed greater success in Mexico against LigaMX teams, but the Dynamo were the first and this match was a clear demonstration of the quality and magic of the early Dynamo teams after their move to to Houston in 2006.

Match highlights:

Check out the goal that Cameron, Ashe and Kamara combined to score at roughly the 1:30 mark of the video

Tie for 1: Dynamo vs. Pachuca (Mexico) 2007 Champions Cup Semifinal

The CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinal two-legged series against Pachuca (Los Tuzos) was the start of a tremendous rivalry with this top Liga MX club. The Dynamo and Pachuca played 6 times between 2007 and 2010 and developed such a rivalry that I remember a poll of Houston sports fans, from the Houston Chronicle back in the day I believe, voted Pachuca as the Dynamo’s biggest rivals.

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Chris Wondolowski celebrates the goal that put the Dynamo up 2-0 in the first leg of the Champions Cup (Image credit: Houston Dynamo website)

Leg 1: Dynamo-2 Pachuca-0 (3/15/07)-Robertson Stadium)

After capturing the Supporters Shield in 2005 (when they were the San Jose Earthquakes) and MLS Cup in 2006 in Frisco, we knew that the Dynamo were a good team, but this game was a clear indication of how good they actually were. After the Dynamo survived a tough first round series over Puntarenas (#5 above) I doubt Pachuca understood what they were getting into when they came to Robertson Stadium for the first leg. Los Tuzos had already demonstrated their quality by winning South America’s Copa Sudamerica the previous year, the first time a Mexican team had ever won a South American championship. Pachuca had to wait an extra day in Houston due to a power outage at the stadium on the original scheduled date.

The next day the Dynamo emerged with a 2-0 win in the first leg over, what I suspect was, a very surprised Pachuca side. Both goals came in the second half with Brian Ching heading home the first off a cross from defender Craig Waibel near the hour mark. Chris Wondolowski, who has gone on to become one of the most prolific scorers in MLS history with San Jose, then scored the biggest of his few Dynamo goals in the 84th minute shortly after coming on as a substitute. Brad Davis, and Dwayne DeRosario who also was substituted on late, contributed to the second goal. My biggest memory of this match is the golden opportunity that Alejandro Moreno almost converted in the last couple of minutes that could have sent the Dynamo down to Pachuca with a three goal advantage.

Leg 2:  Dynamo-2 Pachuca-5  (4/5/07)-Pachuca, Mexico

I considered ending the Top 5 here and not discussing the second leg. After all, why dwell on losses…especially 3 goal defeats. In fairness, Houston suffered some awful defeats along the way in their CONCACAF journey, some of those also by 3 goals. This was not one of those losses.

MLS Soccer’s website wrote a story last year ranking the Top 10 MLS/LigaMX games in history and the second leg of this series came in at #4. Soccer America referred to it as “exciting a match as any MLS club has ever been involved in at the international level.” It was that good.

Pachuca was fully awake for the return leg and no matter how many goals the Dynamo scored, Pachuca probably would have scored enough to advance. They helped matters along by ensuring that Estadio Hidalgo (altitude: 7,960 feet) was packed by offering free tickets to all in attendance. Los Tuzos took a grand total of 15 minutes to even the aggregate score (the first on a goal that looked to be offsides) and the match appeared to be on the way to a blow out. The Dynamo had other ideas though, and took the aggregate lead back through Brian Mullan, who headed in a free kick from Stuart Holden in the 53rd minute. After Pachuca star Argentinian attacker Christian Jiminez brought the series level again a few minutes later on a penalty, Brian Ching restored the lead with a second crucial away goal in the 79th minute (also disputed for being offsides). Unfortunately it was not meant to be for the Dynamo as Pachuca leveled the aggregate near the end of regulation and Jimenez’s third goal (a true golazo) in extra-time was the match winner. The Dynamo disputed the goal because they thought the first extra-time had already ended, but to no avail. Brian Ching also had excellent chances in overtime, but Houston fell short of their first ever appearance in an international finals.

Pachuca eventually went on to win the Champions Cup over Chivas on penalties, after the aggregate was even over the two legs of the final.

As painful as the Houston quarterfinal loss to Pachuca was to watch, especially given the CONCACAF officiating, the second leg is still one of the best Dynamo games I have ever seen and delivered another roller coaster of emotions for all Dynamo fans.

Highlights of both legs of the series:

The next step in the Dynamo’s international history begins Tuesday night in Guatemala City. So far Houston has only advanced past the semifinal stage in these competitions twice…..and that was in the 8-team Champions Cup in 2007 and 2008. If they are able to advance through Guastatoya over the next few weeks, a very difficult matchup against the winner of Tigres UANL vs. Deportivo Saprissa awaits in the quarterfinal round beginning March 5-7.

In addition to my own experiences, I am thankful for the ability to refresh my memories from (1) archived match reports on houstondynamo.com (2) YouTube videos and (3) archived reports from the Houston Chronicle, Soccer America and a very good article on the Pachuca rivalry from the late Leo Ponce on Fansided:  https://orangeintheoven.com/2014/06/02/flashback-series-houston-dynamo-vs-c-f-pachuca/