Houston Dynamo started their marathon for the MLS Cup when they won the U.S. Open Cup. But first, they have to win the CONCACAF Champions League.
With their shutout 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Union for the U.S. Open Cup at the close of September, the Houston Dynamo punched their ticket to Champions League competition.
The CONCACAF Champions League makes MLS teams better as they work to close the competition gap between their best and Liga MX, not to mention the strong competition from throughout Central America and the Caribbean.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber has recognized this challenge and how a developing MLS meets it. MLS teams have made runners-up in the league. For 2018, Toronto FC came in second to Guadalajara. But they have never won it.
More from MLS Multiplex
- Javier Milei Elected in Argentina: Potential Impacts on MLS and Signings of Argentine Players
- Orlando City and New York City FC in the Battle for Matías Arezo; Grêmio Enters Negotiations! Who Will Come Out on Top?
- USA, Honduras, Panama, and Canada Close in on a Spot in the 2024 Copa America
- De Gea Turns Down Al-Nassr’s Lucrative Offer: Speculation Points to Possible Reunion with Messi at Inter Miami
- Messi’s Magnetic Impact in the United States
Houston Dynamo make their sixth entry into the CONCACAF Champions League. They have reached as high as the quarter-finals, yet this is the first time the Dynamo punched their own ticket by winning the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. With the other MLS entries, they’ll be expected to adapt play throughout the competition to keep up with top contenders like Guadalajara.
There’s a soccer school of thought that argues the other way: teams expend great resources gearing players to fight their way through CONCACAF Champions League competition. For that reason, their effort competing in MLS can suffer.
In the past several years, domestic sides in the Champions League cooled off in their MLS campaigns. But in the case of the Houston Dynamo, their 2018 MLS campaign froze all on its own. As they slipped further from a chance to scratch into the playoffs, they continued reaching new plateaus in the U.S. Open Cup.
At the end of September, Houston Dynamo had slipped to the 10th spot in the Western Conference. That’s just one slot above Colorado Rapids, who had officially gotten eliminated from the playoff race.
For supporters wanting another playoff run like in 2017, that sounds grim. Yet, Houston Dynamo have started a marathon run towards another MLS championship. Building a team and new attack strategies to oppose the most powerful entries in the Champions League will make a more powerful and creative MLS opponent out of the Dynamo.
Those still suspicious of the Champions League value will still say ‘go straight for the MLS Cup’. Don’t worry about what amounts to a side bet in winning the other competition.
But using the CONCACAF Champions League competition the way Houston Dynamo can approach doesn’t among to a side bet. It certainly isn’t a sideshow of MLS. Instead, it can become the proving ground for Houston Dynamo to become a new, successful competitor in MLS.
We’ll find out how that works when the Dynamo begin their games early next year. Win that. Then bring what’s learned and aim for the MLS Cup.