Champs' Cup: I'd rather be happy than proud

It was my intention to turn out a more formal wrap-up of the participation of Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs in this year’s edition of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup (CCC). But the 4 a.m. puking wake-up call my three-year-old turned in left me a little too scrambled to produce a grand narrative. So, here are some random thoughts as they come to me.

Before digging into this, I may as well mention that I missed a good chunk - the good chunk from the sound of it - of the second half. I saw Brian Mullan give Houston the 3-2 advantage on aggregate, but didn’t see anything after that till the overtime.

- Obviously, it’s over - American participation in the CCC, along with a shot at seeing an MLS team in the World Club Cup, that is. Dammit. Pleasing as it was to see the incredible fight Houston put into last night’s game, I’d rather be happy today than proud. I take this as a healthy sign. The ol’ college try doesn’t satisfy any more. The displays put on by both clubs tell me MLS clubs are good enough to win these series - and against the best teams in the region.

- How shitty was Houston’s start? One goal conceded on sloppy, sloppy defending, the other by what looked to me like a valid PK. For all that, Houston settled tolerably as the first half wore on. They at least stopped the rout.

- Credit Wade Barrett for a good patch of that, who, so long as I was watching, defended wonderfully; based on the things I saw, he’s my man of the match - just relentless and constructive in throwing himself in front of everything and playing out of tight spaces.

- If not Barrett, Mullan should get MVP. That dude ripped it up on the right, scoring, crossing, defending. Damn shame it didn’t go into a winning effort.

- I didn’t think the ref blew the call on Pachuca’s second penalty (the first was a no-brainer; ball went one way and Craig Waibel clearly made contact); more precisely, I think it was a harsh call given that it was on the edge of the area. I would have been more charitable. Then again, it looked like Brian Ching lost the ball out of bounds on the run that set up Mullan’s goal - and the ref was astute enough to notice the defender flopped as if shot when Ching so much as looked in his general direction. So, cosmically, I suppose things worked out. Still....

- The one thing I got most wrong in the run-up to the game was Houston’s stamina and the affects of the considerable altitude. Sure, Eddie Robinson looked rubber-legged drunk by the second overtime, but Houston had enough in the tank to survive Pachuca’s onslaught. Moreover....

- How painful was Brian Ching’s miss in the first overtime - y’know, the one that came just minutes before Christian Gimenez’s winner game-winner? Add to that Dwayne DeRosario’s point-blank header off Mullan’s cross (hmm...maybe he does get man-of-the-match) and the most incredible thing about this series was how close Houston came under the circumstances. Still, given the course of the game, one almost has to assume they’d surrender a goal only minutes after scoring. Dammit.

- As hard as they fought, the fact remains Houston let in five goals last night. Yeah, two of them were penalties, but those came through very intense pressure. The main thing is, you’re just not going to win many doing that.

- OK, final pick: Brian Mullan gets man-of-the-match.

So, like I said, I can’t claim to be happy, so I don’t care so much about being proud. MLS clubs still did really well this year. There’s no question in my mind that Mexican clubs won’t take these guys lightly in future meetings and tournaments. We’ll get that win on Mexican soil before too long.

Right. That’s all I’ve got.

Here’s the official match report.

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