Defending champion Houston drew the short straw, in a way, by being matched with reigning SuperLiga champion Pachuca. The Dynamo thrashed D.C. United, 3-1, Saturday with goals by Bobby Boswell, Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden to win Group A; a brilliant chip by Damian Alvarez provided Pachuca with its goal in a 1-1 tie that was enough to wind up second in Group B.
On the other hand, Houston may relish the chance to host Pachuca in a winner-take-all showdown and get some revenge. In last year's CONCACAF Champions Cup, Houston won the first leg at home, 2-0, before succumbing, 5-2, in Mexico to go out 5-4 on aggregate in a pulsating two-game semifinal.
Coach Dominic Kinnear, however, won't have Holden and defender Pat Ianni for the semis. They will be in Hong Kong preparing with the U.S. Olympic team.
New England tied Chivas USA 1-1 in Fullerton, Calif., to win Group B, leaving the red-and-white hoping Pachuca would lose so it could sneak into second place. It didn't happen, and so the Revs - competing in their first international competition - will host Atlante, which had knocked off Chivas Guadalajara 2-0 at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Saturday.
Pachuca, playing at Pizza Hut Park, kicked off against Santos knowing the Chivas USA-New England result, a scheduling quirk that makes sense for television - the telecasts were stacked back-to-back - but can provide an advantage to teams playing the later game. In this regard, at least, SuperLiga follows some protocols of Concacaf, which routinely disregards competition regulations that dictate final group matches be played simultaneously.
Houston hosts Pachuca July 29 at Robertson Stadium, Atlante plays New England at Gillette Stadium the following day. Semifinal winners meet Aug. 5 with the venue to be decided when the finalists are known.
Midfielder Brad Davis set up goals for Clark with a corner kick and Boswell on a free kick against a depleted and disorganized D.C. United. Marcelo Gallardo and Gonzalo Peralta were in Germany recovering from hernia surgery, Jaime Moreno watched from the sidelines, and an ineffective Luciano Emilio came off at halftime. Holden, a second-half sub, notched a late third goal, after Francis Doe had scored in the 76th minute.
Chivas USA hosted the Revs at Titan Stadium on the campus of Cal State Fullerton University while Home Depot Center undergoes renovations for the X-Games, and took a 1-0 lead in the 59th minute when Ante Razov scored his fourth goal in as many games. On a patchy, bumpy field, New England equalized when Shalrie Joseph powered a Steve Ralston free kick through the hands of keeper Dan Kennedy in the 78th minute.
"To play a game like this on this field I think was a disgrace," said Revs coach Steve Nicol. "For both sets of players, there is no way you can play football on that field. This is meant to be a big tournament, an important tournament and it shouldn't be played on this sort of field."
The matches played last weekend provide a barometer of interest and drawing power when domestic foes clash in the SuperLiga. Less than 5,000 people showed up on a Sunday afternoon to see Chivas USA play New England; in the other match played - for some inexplicable reason -- in a small venue, Chivas Guadalajara-Atlante drew a sellout of more than 10,000 on Saturday night.
D.C. drew 12,893 for the Houston game; will the number be higher or lower Tuesday night when they regroup at RFK to play the match stopped by heavy rain and lightning June 4? That's a tough choice, though tickets for the suspended game will be honored for the makeup match.
Why the most popular Mexican team in the United States would play in the Quakes' cozy enclave from a marketing perspective, yet Atlante surely preferred to play at Buck Shaw rather than a larger facility with perhaps two or three times as many Chivas supporters on hand, for they swathed the facility in red and white.
Composition of the groups provided a possibility that Chivas Guadalajara and Chivas USA could meet in the semis or the final, but neither team advanced. The big draw may be out, but as last year's Concacaf and SuperLiga games proved, Pachuca has a solid following of its own, and a way of gathering steam once it gets rolling.