By Dylan Butler
FC Dallas enjoyed its CONCACAF Champions League debut against Alianza so much that the American squad opted to stay in San Salvador a few more days to soak in the 1-0 victory.
Actually, it was an airline miscue that required an extra two days in El Salvador and a return to steamy Texas less than 24 hours before kickoff of its Major League Soccer match against Chivas USA Sunday.
However, as he did in Estadio Cuscatlan, goalkeeper Kevin Hartman earned another shutout, a club record 12th of the season in the 1-0 league win.
"I was telling myself before the game I have to find some way to mentally wake myself up and convince myself that I can do this," Hartman told the Dallas Morning News after the game. "A lot of it comes down to the psychology of the game at that point. For us, mentally, it's a huge win, a huge obstacle to overcome."
Honduran Marvin Chavez scored the lone goal at Pizza Hut Park to give Dallas five wins with one loss in eight games in July, much to the delight of head coach Schellas Hyndman.
"I think any coach in the league would take (our) record in the month of July and, again, we always talk about talent isn't everything," he said. "Talent will win you games, but talent plus teamwork will win, and I think that's what we had this month."
Hyndman hopes that carries over to August. As the only team to win away in the first leg of the Preliminary Round of the Champions League, a victory or a draw Wednesday in Frisco will send FC Dallas through to the next round and a spot in Group C. It would join Mexico's Pumas UNAM, Tauro from Panama and the winner of the Preliminary Round series between Canada's Toronto FC and Real Esteli of Nicaragua.
FC Dallas' envious position is nothing compared to the five-goal lead Morelia takes with it into the second leg against Tempete on Wednesday, which again is at Estadio Morelos because of lingering earthquake damage in Haiti.
Morelia comes into the match off a 1-0 loss to 10-man Pumas UNAM in the Mexican Apertura on Sunday, falling to 1-1 on the campaign.
Should La Monarquia prevail, it will advance to the Group Stage and be placed in Group A with the Los Angeles Galaxy, Alajuelense from Costa Rica and either Honduras' Motagua or Municipal from Guatemala.
Fellow Mexican squad Santos Laguna also made the most of its home leg in a Preliminary Round series against Olimpia last week, winning 3-1 thanks to goals by Juan Pablo Rodriguez and Carlos Quintero two minutes apart in the second half.
On the strength of a 3-0 win against Atlante, Santos moved atop the Apertura with consecutive victories. Christian Suarez scored in the first half, while Quintero and Carlos Ochoa struck after the break.
The second leg is set for Wednesday at Estadio Tiburcio Carias Andino. Quintero believes an early goal in Tegucigalpa would all but secure Santos' Group Stage place with the Colorado Rapids, Real Espana from Honduras and the winner of the Preliminary Round series between Isidro Metapan from El Salvador and the Puerto Rico Islanders.
"We know that with the squad we have and the ability of the players, [we] will do well in this cup," Quintero told El Universal.
Metapan, which defeated Alianza in domestic play Sunday, heads to Juan Loubriel Stadium in Bayamon Wednesday with a 2-0 lead in its Preliminary Round series against the Puerto Rico Islanders.
The 10-man Islanders suffered a 1-0 defeat to the Montreal Impact in the North American Soccer League Sunday at Saputo Stadium after Yaikel Perez was sent off in the 65th minute.
Puerto Rico is one of four teams to qualify every year since the Champions League began in 2008, but its record of being the only one to play in the Group Stage every year is in jeopardy.
A first-half penalty kick by Roberto Brown was all San Francisco needed to defeat the Seattle Sounders FC in the opening leg of its Preliminary Round series and move to within 90 minutes of becoming the second Panamanian club in the Group Stage, along with Tauro.
The winner of Wednesday's match at CenturyLink Field will be placed in Group D with Mexico's Monterrey, Comunicaciones of Guatemala and the winner of the Herediano-Alpha United Preliminary Round series.
"It's important for us to come back and win this thing at home and it's great preparation for the MLS playoffs," Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. "We have got to show our ability to come back and score some goals."
That didn't happen on the weekend against the Houston Dynamo as Seattle fell 3-1, snapping a nine-game unbeaten streak in MLS play and enter the second leg off a three-game losing streak. After enjoying an 11-game unbeaten streak, Seattle has lost three straight.
"It just feels like a long stretch," Schmid told reporters after the game. "I think right now their minds are a blank slate. I don't know what they are feeling. I think they are feeling tired and disappointed and embarrassed. We have to make sure we get together for our next game."