Both teams persevered through taxing circumstances to obtain their desired results. Houston overcame a poor start and a procession of purportedly injured Árabe Unido players riding off the field on the stretcher to grasp the home win required to assert control over Group 1. Sporting Kansas City tromped through soggy conditions in Honduras and used some deft work on the counter to defeat C.D. Olimpia and obtain Group 2 supremacy.
On these sorts of nights, the emphasis falls on mentality, not quality. Houston and Sporting Kansas City possessed more than enough of the latter characteristic to dispatch the opposition, but their ability summon the necessary composure proved more important as they took substantial steps toward a berth in the quarterfinals.
Houston Dynamo 2 – Árabe Unido 1
Any visions of a calm, ruthless Houston triumph evaporated in the early stages of this laborious encounter against the perpetually hindered Panamanians. The home side sputtered from the opening whistle and watched referee Hugo Cruz punish the poor start by awarding a soft penalty after just seven minutes.
Abdiel Arroyo converted from 12 yards moments later to plunge the match into a gamesmanship-created muck. Árabe Unido retreated immediately upon conceding, stayed in its shell despite Cam Weaver’s well-taken equalizer after 22 minutes and spent the next 70 minutes or so tumbling to the ground in a transparent bid to dither its way to a desired point.
Houston might have allowed those tactics to take hold if not for the adjustments made during the second half. The insertion of Boniek Garcia at the interval and Brad Davis for the final 25 minutes created some necessary stability in possession to reduce the frequency of Árabe Unido’s surprisingly effective counterattacks and posed more problems for the unconvincing Panamanian defense.
Davis played the telling ball to dash any lingering hopes for the visitors and relieve the inherent tension in the Dynamo camp after 77 minutes. The clever midfielder benefited from some earnest work by Warren Creavalle and curled a cross to the back post for Weaver to head home his second and secure the points.
Weaver’ss late goal clinched the result required to claim top spot in Group 1. A home victory over W Connection next month and an away result against Árabe Unido in October will claim yet another quarterfinal and reinforce the notion that this veteran side – even with a wobble here or there – understands how to navigate through the treacherous group stage.
C.D. Olimpia 0 – Sporting Kansas City 2
Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes signaled the importance of this trip to Tegucigalpa by fielding most of his starters in this potentially decisive Group 2 encounter. The effective and professional display produced by those regulars justified the decision and essentially sealed a berth in the quarterfinals.
Poor conditions left both teams to muddle through a first half with few genuine chances and one timely goal from Soony Saad just before the half hour. Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi conspired to play Saad into a good position inside the penalty area. Saad polished off the move adroitly to snatch a precious advantage heading into the interval.
Olimpia improved a bit after the break, but Sporting pounced for the second against the run of play after 68 minutes to settle the outcome. Dom Dwyer embarked upon a one-man counter through the Olimpia half and somehow prompted Carlos Mejia to halt the endeavor with a needless lunge on the left side of the penalty area. Saad powered his spot kick through Noel Valladares’ attempted save to put the result beyond doubt.
Sporting moved three points clear at the top of Group 2 with the victory in Honduras. Four points from two home matches against Real Estelí in September and Olimpia in October will carry Vermes’ side into the final eight.