Seldom this season has the 2006 and 2007 league champion resembled the past two versions that relied on a stingy
defense, potent midfield, and opportunistic attack to finish atop the MLS heap. A patchwork defense and sputtering attack have plagued Houston during MLS play, yet in its SuperLiga opener it
thrashed Atlante, 4-0, and eventually finished atop Group A by beating D.C. United, 3-1, after it lost to Chivas Guadalajara, 1-0.
Houston coach Dominic Kinnear sent out lanky striker Nate Jaqua, who returned recently to MLS following a short stint in Austria, along with Ching and DeRosario as interchanging attackers. Brad Davis and Brian Mullan supplied width in midfield, with Geoff Cameron and Ricardo Clark assigned to anchor the middle in front of Craig Waibel, Boswell and Wade Barrett. Not available were reliable veterans Richard Mulrooney and Eddie Robinson because of injury.
Cameron and Clark worked doggedly to plug up the middle and rarely did Pachuca's famed combination play open up large gaps. Waibel and Barrett kept the corners secure and seldom allowed Pachuca a clearcut opportunity to hit a decisive cross. Houston took 12 shots, half of which hit the target, and took the lead with a set play typical of their efficiency in such situations.
Texas product Jose Francisco Torres, 19, started and played the first 82 minutes in the
Boswell arrived at the far post to put away a glancing header from Waibel, who made a near-post run to meet a corner kick hit by DeRosario. The ball skipped through the goalmouth and Boswell didn't miss from well inside the goal area to give Houston a 1-0 lead in the 77th minute.
Shortly after the disallowed goal, Ashe had replaced Davis, who absorbed several harsh tackles and couldn't contribute much offensively. Houston held firm with the 1-0 lead and countered cautiously, but when Mullan got upfield with three minutes left in regulation and gained enough space to send over a cross that cleared the entire Pachuca back line, an unmarked Ashe leaped to nod it home just inside the base of the near post.
Orange-clad fans, especially those behind Calero's goal, jumped and danced in celebration as Ashe strutted almost defiantly and his joyous teammates chased and then embraced him.
Pachuca players and officials got into a brief scuffle with a few of their Houston counterparts following the final whistle. Referee Neil Brizan and his assistants took some abuse for the disallowed goal, but evident on the faces was the frustration of creating few chances and surrendering late goals 10 minutes apart.
Ashe's matter-of-fact salute suggested the confidence and swagger by which Houston claimed the last two league titles is back, and will be seen again in the next few months, regardless of venue, opposition, or occasion.