América gave up a late goal but got past Houston in a penalty kick shoot-out to stay alive in the inaugural Leagues Cup pitting Liga MX against MLS.
Giovani dos Santos found the best way to endear himself to América fans, converting the winning penalty kick to help the Aguilas slip past the Houston Dynamo in a Leagues Cup quarterfinal match.
Dos Santos made his first appearance in an América jersey as a substitute, coming on in minute 57 and taking part in the goal that put the Aguilas up 1-0 in minute 73.
Another second-half sub, Nicolás Benedetti (back after a serious knee injury suffered last season), started the play, finding Gio in the middle of the pitch and dos Santos knocked it ahead to Nico Castillo. Castillo pushed it into Benedetti’s path as he ran into the box and the Argentine midfielder scored with a sliding toe poke.
Just as happened the night before in the first two Leagues Cup quarterfinals, the MLS team chose to rely on a second-choice roster in the Leagues Cup match. Meanwhile, the Liga MX teams have put out their top line-ups.
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Although the Houston Dynamo chose to prioritize their league playoff chase (benching stars Mauro Manotas, Tommy McNamara, Tomas Martinez, Kiki Struna and Maynor Figueroa and calling up three players from their farm team), the MLS club performed admirably against America’s first-choice squad.
Miguel Herrera’s men played with cockiness and too much flair, and Houston’s makeshift line-up refused to be intimidated. While the Aguilas too often tried the fancy dribble or looked for the clever pass, Dynamo defenders played strong positional team defense, getting deflections, forcing turnovers, and snuffing out América scoring chances.
With possession, Houston was not so effective, but América occasionally obliged by being careless on defense and one moment of negligence led to the Dynamo goal just 5 minutes from time.
The right side of the Aguilas defense was caught napping and Houston left back Demarcus Beasley made an overlapping run down the flank, getting behind Paul Aguilar and bursting past Ema Aguilera. Beasley – a long-time USA international and former Puebla Camotero – blasted into the roof of the net from a sharp angle.
Although Houston only enjoyed 42% possession, the Dynamo kept up with América in shooting stats. Houston outshot the Aguilas 12-9, but América got more shots on net (5-4).
In the penalty shoot-out, “Marche” blocked the opening Dynamo shot and the first four Aguilas converted, setting up Roger Martínez to be the hero. But the Colombian sailed his spot kick over the cross bar …and the shoot-out went into sudden death all tied at 4-4. Kevin Garcia put Houston ahead 5-4, but Benedetti converted to force a 7th round.
When Houston’s Sam Junqua curled his effort over the crossbar, dos Santos strode up to the spot and put on his cape. He calmly sent keeper Joe Willis the wrong way and slotted home with his trusty left boot, giving América a 6-5 shoot-out victory.
Houston Rockets star and last year’s NBA MVP James Harden was in the stands at Houston’s BBVA Stadium cheering on the Dynamo.