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Houston wants fast start
by Ridge Mahoney, February 24th, 2009 7AM

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The Houston Dynamo's record against Mexican teams is sprinkled with all manner of results but regardless of win, loss or tie, its players and coach welcome the competition. A rematch with Atlante is Houston's quarterfinal assignment in the 2008-09 Concacaf Champions League, beginning with the first leg at Robertson Stadium Tuesday (10 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel, Galavision).

The Houston Dynamo's record against Mexican teams is sprinkled with all manner of results but regardless of win, loss or tie, its players and coach welcome the competition.

"It's a good way to measure yourself as a team and also individually as a player," said midfielder/right back Richard Mulrooney last year, after Houston beat Atlante and Pachuca and lost to Guadalajara in the SuperLiga, and tied and lost to UNAM in the Concacaf Champions League. "Some of that has to do with the rivalry between Mexico and the USA at the national team level, but the club level is different. You might never get the chance to play for the national team against Mexico, so a lot of our guys feel this is a great opportunity for them, and I think it's the same at the club level; these are always good, tough games."

A rematch with Atlante is Houston's quarterfinal assignment in the 2008-09 Concacaf Champions League, beginning with the first leg at Robertson Stadium Tuesday (10 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel, Galavision). The return leg will be played in Cancun March 3.

When Houston pounded Atlante, 4-0, in the last meeting July 12 at Robertson Stadium, the Dynamo was in the middle of the MLS season, while Atlanta was about to conclude its preseason campaign. The roles are reversed this time.

"I think the rivalry from USA and Mexico definitely carries over, but you look at lot of their teams, and they just have some really good players," says coach Dominic Kinnear, who spent some time with Necaxa during his playing career. "They're hard to beat down there because of the crowds and the altitude and the travel, but even if you're playing at home, they can be a handful if you're not ready."

Houston is still weeks away from its MLS opener. It tied Swedish club Hammarby IF, 0-0, in the last game of its California camp and also lost to San Jose, 2-0. It won twice and tied once in its first three games of the preseason.

The Dynamo is also the only MLS team of four to reach the CCL quarters. By contrast, all four Mexican clubs have advanced. Mexico City rivals UNAM and Cruz Azul meet in an all-Mexican showdown, and Santos Laguna is paired with Canadian representative Montreal (USL-1). Both of those series begin Wednesday.

Atlante is more than a month deep into its league season, having played seven matches. It is mired in a five-match winless streak (three ties, two losses) and has just seven points in those seven games. This will be its third game in seven days, and it has a tough league assignment in Mexico City against Cruz Azul Saturday.

"They have a game [last] Wednesday and a game on Saturday, so the message has been put out by ourselves to the team that's important for us for the first 10-15 minutes to give them all we have and see if they're fatigued a little bit," Kinnear said. "Hopefully, they will be. But they are a good professional team, and it won't be easy. So we have to make sure that our mentality is one of, I wouldn't say desperation, but it would be nice to get a win in this first game."

Each team will be missing a vital player in the first leg; Atlante keeper Federico Vilar is suspended, as is Houston defender Eddie Robinson. The Atlante game will also be the first competitive match Houston has played since it traded Dwayne DeRosario to Toronto in exchange for allocation money.

The heir-apparent to that dynamic playmaking role, Stuart Holden, has missed some training in the past week to be with family and friends as they mourn the death of his father, Brian Holden, who died aged 55 a week ago Monday. The time of a team training session was shifted so players and staff could attend a private celebration in his honor last Friday.

Prior to kickoff against Atlante on Tuesday, a moment's silence will be observed in his memory.


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