[CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE]Not every team puts as much emphasis on its reserve squad as does Houston, and all that work reaped a significant reward Tuesday night in San Salvador.
But for an error by keeper Tony Caig, Houston would have grabbed all three points against Luis Angel Firpo in their Concacaf Champions' League match. His failure to deal with a cross inside the six-yard box allowed Fernando Leguizamon to equalize in the 87th minute and forge a 1-1 tie that means Houston must win the final group match when the teams conclude group play in four weeks.
Two days after clinching the MLS Reserve Division title by beating the backups of Chivas USA, a Dynamo team primarily composed of reserves headed to El Salvador so the regulars could be rested for the Western Conference semifinals, first leg at the Meadowlands against Red Bull New York on Saturday.
It's a risk few, if any, MLS teams would have taken, yet Coach Dominic Kinnear has juggled many players between first-team and reserve-team action all season and handed them a difficult but certainly do-able assignment. Assistant coach John Spencer managed the team on this trip while Kinnear and most of the starters trained in Houston.
Stuart Holden scored during a goalmouth scramble in the 16th minute by first-timing a shot and a defense led by fellow U.S. Olympian Pat Ianni held off Firpo's increasingly desperate attacks until but fatigue caught up with the Dynamo.
Houston (1-3-1, 6 points) must win the return match Nov. 26 at Robertson Stadium to finish ahead of Firpo (2-1-2, 8 points) and progress to the quarterfinals. Group leader UNAM, which beat Houston, 3-1, last week has already clinched its spot in the next round.
Kei Kamara, Geoff Cameron, Corey Ashe, Holden and Ianni were the only players with extensive first-team experience who Spencer took to El Salvador, yet Houston overran Firpo in the first half and struck when defender Carlos Calderon scuffed an attempted clearance of a long Cameron throw-in and Holden smacked it home left-footed.
Ianni played centrally alongside Steve Wondolowski in a four-man back line, with Wondolowski's brother, Chris, playing up top with Kamara. Holden ran the show in midfield, with good support from Ashe, Cameron and John Michael Hayden. Ten minutes after Holden's goal, he played a ball down the left side that Cameron dragged narrowly wide of the far post.
Houston squandered two more chances early in the second half when Kamara headed over the bar and Holden's driven free kick from 25 yards out missed by less than a foot. Firpo substitutes Francisco Medrano, Jose Campos and Ramon Avila - all attackers -- eventually managed to pin Houston in its own half, and Patricio Gomez's bicycle kick that sailed wide thrilled the crowd even if it didn't trouble Caig.
Firpo goalie Henry Hernandez saved spectacularly in the 72nd minute, palming away Corey Ashe's swerving shot bound for the top corner. The home team's pressure finally paid dividends when Carlos Monteagudo's cross to the near post reached Avila before Caig could get there, and Avila nodded the ball into the path of Leguizamon, who tucked it home.
By winning the Reserve Division title and getting a point in very tough conditions, Houston's backups proved their mettle, and Spencer chalked up another entry on an impressive resume that sooner or later must land him a team of his own.
In Group C play on Tuesday, Mexico's Atlante defeated USL-1's Montreal, 2-1, but both teams qualify for the knockout stage. They are tied on 11 points atop the group, with Atlante finishing first on head-to-head results. (Their first game ended in a 1-1 tie.)
The other USL-1 club in the competition, Puerto Rico, faces Panama's Tauro on Wednesday (Fox Soccer Channel, 11 pm) and will advance with a win.
Oct. 28 in San Salvador
Luis Angel Firpo 1 Houston 1.
Goals: Lequizamon (Avila, Monteagudo) 87; Holden 16.
Luis Angel Firpo -- Hernandez, Veliz, Salazar, Morales, Monteagudo, Calderon (Medrano, 24), Pekarnik (Campos, 61), Alas, Sanchez (Avila, 64), Lequizamon, Gomez.
Houston -- Caig, Ustruck, Ianni, Wondolowski, Chabala, Cameron, Hayden, Holden, Ashe, Wondolowski (Brown, 93), Kamara.
Yellow cards: Firpo -- Campos 66; Houston - Holden 37, Cameron 39, Hayden 50, Caig 92.
Referee:Jorge Gasso (MEX)