By Paul Kennedy Managing Editor
If you thought Tuesday's Chivas-D.C. United
game in Guadalajara offered great drama, that paled in comparison to what Pachuca and the Houston Dynamo offered up Thursday night at Pachuca's Hidalgo Stadium.
The CONCACAF Champions Cup
doesn't yet have the cache of the Champions League in Europe or the Libertadores Cup in South America, so Pachuca offered fans free tickets to ensure a sellout of 30,000. What they saw was as
exciting a match as any MLS club has ever been involved in at the international level.
The Dynamo was certainly outclassed in terms of skill and pace against Pachuca, which became the
first Mexico club to win a South American championship when it won last year's Copa Sudamericana. But even after falling behind, 2-0, in the second leg after 15 minutes and even after twice having
their aggregate lead disappear on penalty kicks, Houston came back to lead the series, 3-2 and 4-3 on aggregate, before going down in overtime (5-2 on the night and 5-4 over the two games).
Argentines Christian Gimenez
and Gabriel Caballero
combined for all five Pachuca goals. Gimenez's first two goals came
on penalty kicks, and they were not as controversial as his third goal, a dipping shot from well outside the penalty area that left Dynamo keeper Zach Wells
flat-footed. Houston's beef with Canadian referee Mauricio Navarro
was that the shot came well after the 15-minute mark of the first overtime. No stoppage
time was signaled, and Navarro had his whistle in his mouth for several seconds before Caballero shot.
Gimenez, Caballero and the other Tuzos teased at times with the Dynamo defenders, but
somehow Houston managed to get back in the game in the second half. Brian Ching
and Dwayne De Rosario
combined to set
up Brian Mullin
for the first Dynamo goal in the 52nd minute, and China appeared to have won the game in the 80th game with Houston's second goal on a header
off a Stuart Holden
free kick. Caballero's short-range header with three minutes left in regulation saved Pachuca.
Even in overtime, the Houston
managed to put together three excellent scoring chances -- Pachuca goalie Miguel Calero
stopped Ching at point-blank range, Ching missed on a wide-open
header and Ching scored but was called for a foul in Calero in the dying seconds of the second overtime.
The performances by D.C. United and Houston have surely boosted the image of MLS in
Mexico, where American clubs have often taken terrible beatings. And they could not have come at a better time, on the eve of this summer's inaugural SuperLiga, where D.C. United and Houston are
entered. If the SuperLiga is anything like the CONCACAF semifinals, fans are in for a big treat.