Atlante eliminates Houston from Champs League
It was always going to be a tough task for Houston to claim victory in Cancun, Mexico, but Atlante put all doubt to rest as to who was the better side with a 3-0 thrashing of the Dynamo in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Heading into Tuesday's second leg quarterfinal, the onus was on Houston to come out flying after conceding a goal at home in the first leg. Atlante had the advantage of needing only to hold the fort to advance to the semifinals, but neither manager seemed ready to sit back as both teams would start with strong attacking sides.
With the two sides having met twice in regional competitions over the last year, the second leg quarterfinal was expected to be a chippy affair with goals on the offer.
Neither team made many changes from the first-leg encounter in Houston. For the Dynamo, defensive stalwart Bobby Boswell was out with illness so Craig Weibel got the start in his place. Giancarlo Moldonado started on the bench for Atlante in favor of Clemente Ovalle, and the home side chose to go with Argentine Frederico Vilar in goal rather than last first-leg starter Omar Ortiz.
Atlante opened the match much the way the home side would be expected to, creating a couple of early chances to little avail. But the early pressure was just a sign of what was to come in the later stages of the half.
Houston's best chance to open the scoring came 10 minutes in when Kei Kamara and Brian Mullen combined well near the touchline. Mullen's service was well hit, but the runs of Brian Ching and Stuart Holden were just a bit early and Brad Davis could not arrive at the back post in time.
While the run of play certainly did not show one-way traffic, the home side took control of the match through the rest of the first half by way of finding the net.
The Iron Colts' break through would come in the 23rd when Vilar sent a free kick over the top of everybody. Wade Barrett was beaten to the ball by Fernando Navarro who took a brilliant touch with his head to beat the Houston left back and finished calmly.
With the game turning a bit rough and Houston throwing more numbers forward, trying to get the equalizer, Atlante would strike again.
It was Rafeal Marquez Lugo who found space behind Weibel in the 36th after the Houston center back failed to get his head on a floated cross. In the end the headed finish was all too easy for Lugo and Atlante would take a 2-0 advantage to the break.
Houston would make two changes in the back, bringing on Geoff Cameron and Corey Ashe in an attempt to bring to open up play a bit more.
Ashe began paying dividends in the 59th when he won a free kick in a good position, but Davis could not get the service in behind Atlante's defenders.
The game would continue in a rater choppy fashion into the last thirty minutes, with Atlante showing better control of the ball than they did in the first leg, and Houston struggling to find their rhythm.
Another free kick led to a Houston chance in the 71st when the floated ball in was cleared by Atlante for a corner to the Dynamo. The ensuing corner found Ricardo Clark unmarked at the six yard box, but the midfielder's header lacked the direction and power to beat Vilar.
Ching came close to pulling one back in the 77th. It was Ashe who did the hard part, turning his defender well and floating a ball to the back post where the Hawaiian was waiting. A good bit of defending closed the angle and Ching could only push the header off of the outside of the post.
Atlante, clearly content to defend their two-goal lead, offered little going forward, but defended well by closing space quickly and marking Ching and Kamara almost completely out of the action.
The only real danger came from set pieces where Kamara's size was troubling the smaller back line of the home side, and one nearly paid off for Houston in the closing minutes.
Clark did well to win a corner in the 82nd and Houston seemed to have found their first goal, but the referee determined that Kamara's effort involved a foul and the Dynamo was no closer to closing the gap.
With the game winding down and Houston finding little going forward, Luis Gabriel Rey set the table for second-half sub Giancarlo Maldonano who would book Atlante's ticket to the semifinal.
Rey did well to beat the first defender and hold off two more before lofting a ball to the waiting Venezuelan. Maldonado made no mistake in pounding the ball past Houston 'keeper Pat Onstad with his left foot from just a few yards out.
The game would end 3-0 with the Iron Colts becoming the CONCACAF Champions League's first every semifinalist.
It was a deserving result for Atlante, clearly the better side throughout the night, and a poor ending to Houston's, and Major League Soccer's, first-ever shot at the CCL.