It is difficult to associate "swagger" with anything Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti does these days.
The veteran Tigres coach doesn't exactly fit the modern definition of the word. Yet he enters Houston for his club's Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal first leg against the Dynamo with a quiet confidence. There is a lack of worry from Ferretti about Tuesday's first leg.
Should he be fretting? Probably not. Sure, Andre-Pierre Gignac has a knee injury that has kept him out of the CCL so far and prevented him from traveling this week. There was initially doubt cast on the severity of the issue, but now Ferretti is worried it could keep his French forward out of this weekend's critical Clasico Regio against rival Monterrey. Ferretti, in his own way, said he's only planning for Tuesday's CCL match and not the big showdown with Rayados.
"Tomorrow, I'm focused on what we're going to face," the 65-year-old said Monday at a news conference. "I don't know if I'm going to live until Saturday, so it's day by day. Wednesday I'll think about the next match."
Last week cleared up plenty of concerns if he had any lingering. Tigres blasted Saprissa 5-1 without Gignac to turn around a first-leg CCL defeat and this weekend smashed Pachuca, 3-0. Even Guido Pizarro got in on the goals, with the central midfielder making a run through midfield that fans over-excitedly compared to Diego Maradona's famous zagging goal against England in the World Cup.
When the Maradona comparisons come out, you know things are good for Tigres. Los Felinos are leading the Liga MX Clausura table and may be the favorites to lift the CCL trophy - not that Ferretti wants to hear that.
"You guys put the favorite tag on, we don’t put it on ourselves. We always say we’re 11 v. 11," Ferretti said. "If we face Barcelona in the Club World Cup, naturally you’d put Barcelona as the favorite, but we’d say we’re 11 v. 11. It’s the same with what we’re going to face tomorrow. For us, we’re 11 v. 11 and we shouldn’t be confident of anything."
His opposite number, Dynamo coach Wilmer Cabrera, willingly embraces the underdog tag. He says his squad needs to play a "perfect game" in the first leg to go into El Volcan with a chance next week.
"They’re not just favorites for no reason, they’re favorites for their players having won on the field and what they’ve gotten. You have to respect that," Cabrera said.
Without Gignac, Tigres' attack is not as fearsome. Winger Javier Aquino didn't travel either and Jurgen Damm remains out injured. Yet the Dynamo know they'll still be tested. Enner Valencia, Eduardo Vargas, Julian Quinones and Luis Quinones all made the trip and all would start every week for the majority of teams in the Americas - not just in Concacaf.
The Dynamo are set to welcome that challenge on what will be a frigid night by Houston standards, in front of a crowd that will largely be rooting for Tigres rather than the home team.
"As a soccer player, you always want to test yourself against the best opponents. I think in the Americas, they’re one of the best teams. They’re doing really well in the Mexican league right now, they have a big history and they’re probably the favorite for the Champions League," Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis said.
"It’s a big game for us. It’s a competition that a lot of our players are new to. That being said, I think the pressure is kind of on them right now. I think we can go out there and play free. They have a great team, obviously, a lot of quality, but we’re confident in our abilities and we’re excited for the challenge."
That challenge is enormous, and both teams are ready to play their part - Tigres that of reluctant but familiar favorite and the Dynamo as the MLS hopeful. They're in this competition because of the U.S. Open Cup win and didn't even make the playoffs last season. Cabrera and his team understand their role. So too do Ferretti and his men, who come in feeling like they should get the victory and be in control of the series. If not, they know they can make it up in the second leg like they did in the round of 16.
Maybe there's more swag in Tuca then we gave him credit for.