By AVI CREDITOR
To date, perhaps no team has had as active a preseason as the Houston Dynamo. And the club has barely hit the training pitch.
With the team breaking ground on its new downtown stadium last week and the club being shifted to the Eastern Conference (for this season at least), change is in the air in Houston. That's a good thing, considering the team missed the postseason for the first time since the franchise relocated from San Jose.
With a couple of highly touted draft picks in the fold, more of an infusion from the team's academy and an eye toward the future, the Dynamo are hoping to be this season's turnaround success story. Before Houston opens the season at home against the Philadelphia Union, it'll continue its loaded preseason with 11 matches, including games at the Disney Classic and Atlanta Pro Soccer Challenge.
Here's a closer look at the Houston Dynamo's preseason plans:
Training Schedule: Feb. 7-14 in Houston; Feb. 15-19 in Phoenix; Feb. 20-21 in Houston; Feb. 22-26 in Orlando; Feb. 28-March 10 in Houston; March 11-13 in Atlanta; March 15-18 in Houston.
Preseason Game Schedule: Defeated Houston Baptist University, 2-0, on Feb. 5; Feb. 12 vs. FC Dallas in Corpus Christi, Texas; Feb. 15 vs. Sporting Kansas City in Phoenix; Feb. 17 vs. Columbus Crew in Phoenix; Feb. 19 vs. Portland Timbers in Phoenix; Feb. 22 vs. Seattle Sounders in Orlando; Feb. 24 semifinals of Disney Classic in Orlando; Feb. 26 final/third-place game of Disney Classic in Orlando; March 5 vs. Southern Methodist University in Houston; March 8 vs. Real Salt Lake in Houston (tentative); March 11 vs. Columbus in Atlanta; March 13 vs. New England in Atlanta.
Key Arrivals: F – Will Bruin, Jason Garey; MF – Josue Soto, Alex Dixon; DF – Hunter Freeman, Kofi Sarkodie, Jordan Graye.
Key Departures: F – Joseph Ngwenya, Dominic Oduro; MF – Anthony Obodai; DF – Ryan Cochrane, Adrian Serioux; GK – Pat Onstad.
What to Watch For: It'll be interesting to see how coach Dominic Kinnear uses Sarkodie, considering that he and Freeman are both right-sided fullbacks. With all of the attacking prowess that Sarkodie possesses, it's feasible that he could play in the midfield. Freeman could also be shifted to the left side to make room for the Akron product. The two of them are the team's top offseason acquisitions, and both figure to get premium minutes all season as opposed to playing in a time-share.
Aside from Sarkodie, the other Generation adidas rookie on the team also has much to prove from the onset. Will Bruin will have likely have to fight off Cam Weaver and Jason Garey to earn the right to start next to Brian Ching in the early going. A strong showing in the preseason could expedite his path to the starting rotation, though.
Tally Hall is expected to take the reins in goal, filling the void left behind by longtime veteran Pat Onstad, who is now a coach with D.C. United. Kinnear seems to be content with his current goalkeeper crop, considering that the team hasn't shown any indication of acquiring a veteran keeper and also opted out of the lottery for David Bingham. Hall will be pushed by academy product Tyler Deric, the only other keeper on the current roster.
Of Note: Midfielder Colin Clark, acquired in a trade with Colorado last season for Brian Mullan, is still recovering from a torn ACL. He's continuing his rehabilitation with the team in Houston but has yet to resume active ballwork. He could join training by the end of the month, according to a club official…With all of the personnel comings and goings, the Dynamo has yet to fulfill its pledge to bring in a Designated Player, though the quest is still on-going…The Dynamo's academy is at the forefront of the club's youth movement. Francisco Navas Cobo and Deric both saw limited minutes last season and are due for expanded roles in 2011, and Dixon and Soto will look to leave their marks on the club in 2011, though they will most likely have to do so in the reserve division.