Bobby Boswell nailed a Brad Davis corner kick in the 34th minute for a 1-0 Dynamo lead but several other opportunities went unclaimed at Roberston Stadium and with eight minutes left Atlante inflicted punishment with a Gabriel Pererya goal, also off a corner kick, it will take home to Cancun for the second leg next week.
Houston recovered after Altante pressed the pace in the opening minutes to create several good chances, with Brian Mullan breaching the Los Potros back line to serve incisive crosses. Kei Kamara headed one serve against the crossbar, and another cross yielded another Kamara header that forced backup keeper Omar Ortiz into a dive as he pushed the ball past the post. Still another cross triggered a scramble as Ortiz failed to deal with a ball dropping well within his six-yard box but Houston couldn't force it into the net and Atlante cleared.
Boswell darted toward the near post to escape his marker and head home Davis' corner for a lead Houston deserved but failed to build on, and the fatigue induced by playing a tough foe in competitive conditions a month into preseason wore down several Dynamo players in the second half. Atlante, buoyed by the substitution of Clemente Ovalle for Giancarlo Maldonado at halftime and greater urgency from several players, regained the momentum of a quick start that in the first half had twice produced shots on target for Dynamo goalie Pat Onstad to save.
Fernando Navarro and Luis Gabriel Rey of Atlante gained traction in midfield and rougher, scrappier play broke down the rhythm of both teams. Four Houston players were cautioned between the 56th and 81st minutes as the Atlante attacks escalated, and the fourth yellow card, given to substitute Geoff Cameron for a hard foul, was followed by the tying goal.
From the left-wing flag, Narvarro used his right foot to curl the ball deep to the back post, where a kick by Luis Venegas bounced it back over Onstad into the goalmouth, where Pererya beat a trio of defenders to nod it over the line from two yards out.
Gerardo Espinoza and Venegas were cautioned after Pererya's goal as Atlante clung to the 1-1 scoreline. Davis fired wide and a Cameron shot required Ortiz to make his third save of the night.
"They fought hard and possessed the ball really well, especially in the second half," Boswell said. "But I think it comes down to us not finishing our chances."
Atlante assistant coach Jose Luis Gonzalez handled duties from the bench, with head coach Jose Guadalupe Cruz - suspended for a red card he received in the last group game against Montreal Oct. 28 - watching from a suite.
Houston finished with a 9-6 edge in shots and a 12-3 superiority in corners as the teams split 42 fouls nearly evenly (22 committed by Atlante), but the Mexican team will head home for the second leg Tuesday with an away goal, which would be decisive if a goalless second leg leaves the teams tied, 1-1, on aggregate.