Columbus Crew vs. Houston Dynamo: Champions Cup R16 Second Leg Match Preview

The Columbus Crew are back in action just three days after their late win against Chicago. They will host the Houston Dynamo after defeating them 1-0 in the first leg on the road, securing the crucial away goal. Now, they aim to finish the job back home at Field.
Mar 9, 2024; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Crew forward Jacen Russell-Rowe (19) celebrates after
Mar 9, 2024; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Crew forward Jacen Russell-Rowe (19) celebrates after / Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew will aim to eliminate the Houston Dynamo in their upcoming meeting for the second leg of their 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup Round of 16 series at Field on Tuesday night. After securing a 1-0 victory in the first leg on the road, courtesy of Alexandru Matan's late goal, the Crew have the advantage with the crucial away goal.

Columbus is seeking their first Champions Cup quarterfinal since the 2021 edition and are well-placed following their victory in the first leg. The Crew's strong record in home matches in all competitions should instill confidence in their ability to progress.

A look at the visitors

Houston Dynamo lost back-to-back games in all competitions and are just all over the place at the moment. Suffering a third consecutive loss would dent their confidence significantly, highlighting the importance of securing a positive outcome against the Columbus Crew in the upcoming match.

The late defeat in the first leg was particularly frustrating for Houston Dynamo, who had aimed to hold out for a draw. Heading into the return leg, they face a daunting task, with their current form suggesting they may be facing elimination from the competition.

Head Coach Ben Olsen's might require reassessment given the recent results. Houston Dynamo's players struggled to capitalize on opportunities in the first leg, as evidenced by their four shots on target and two big chances created without scoring. Their players need to deliver the performance of their lives to have a chance of survival and progress to the next stage.

Rotation is needed

Unlike Houston, Columbus had to play on the weekend, whereas the Dynamo didn’t, and would be coming in fresher than a Crew side that is going to play their fourth match in just a span of ten days. Rotation is key in order to minimize potential injuries that could jeopardize the season. Having a 1-0 lead gives Nancy’s team a significant advantage going into the return leg. However, they still have the task of defending this advantage for the remaining 90 minutes of the match, meaning that only a few key players needs to be rested rather than a full XI.

Aidan Morris has played every single available minute and is the first name I would rest on the bench. Others, such as Rudy Camacho and Cucho Hernandez, are also important players that need to be monitored. Players such as Christian Ramirez, Jacen Russell-Rowe, Evgen Cherberko, Steven Moreira, and Saturday’s Crew debutant, Derrick Jones, all have the quality to perform against the Dynamos. Whether Wilfried Nancy deems Will Sands fit is also another option, but I see him coming off the bench rather than being given a start after recovering from an ACL injury.

Injury news

Wilfired Nancy has confirmed that Alex Matan will miss Wednesday game due to injury picked up after the first leg at Houston. Other than that, it looks to be yet again a healthy Columbus side.

As for the visitors, they are still without their captain, Hector Herrera, and will continue to miss him, as shown in their recent games. In fairness, it is a big hole to fill in the midfield until the Mexican legend returns.

What to expect

As I mentioned, I believe Nancy will try to freshen up the lineup a bit to avoid fatigue, considering the sheer amount of minutes some players are already accumulating. With games coming thick and fast, I don’t anticipate the pace slowing down, so effective time management is crucial. However, this doesn’t mean disregarding Houston and making eleven changes from the weekend. It's about rewarding players who have performed well, even with limited minutes, such as Russell-Rowe or Christian Ramirez. Derrick Jones impressed me in the closing minutes of the win against the Chicago Fire, despite his limited playing time, so perhaps he’s an option off the bench who could come in earlier than last time, or maybe even earn a rare start. But once again, the ultimate goal is to win, so we must respect Houston as an opponent regardless. Anything can happen, especially with a slim 1-0 lead.

Houston, on the other hand, has nothing to lose. They're on the road against the MLS champs in a stadium where the Crew has turned it into a fortress. It's possible that they'll go all out attacking. The prediction is that since the Black & Gold loves to dominate at home, they'll allow Columbus to hold onto the ball and try to win it back quickly to break on the counter. This strategy is similar to what we've seen in the first leg, where Houston's Adalberto Carrasquilla would pick up the ball in a promising position with support in the center and plenty of space in front of him to attack in transition. The Panamanian is by far Houston's most threatening player, and shutting him down will make the job easier.

What are your score predictions?