SBI MLS Season Preview: Houston Dynamo

Brad Davis

BY RYAN TOLMICH

The Houston Dynamo fell short in their bid to make it to three straight MLS Cup finals in 2013, but with a veteran group with plenty of talent, and Dom Kinnear at the reins, Houston could make another push at a final despite the fact the team had a largely uneventful offseason.

The Dynamo enter the 2014 season with most of its team intact from last season’s playoff run that saw them knock off the Montreal Impact and Supporter’s Shield winners New York Red Bulls. Houston will expect to have a revitalized Will Bruin, a healthy Oscar Boniek Garcia and a well rested Brad Davis, despite Davis still having an outside shot of traveling to Brazil with the national team this summer.

Last year’s team was heavily impacted by injuries and poor form, as the Dynamo never quite played to the level that many have come to expect from one of MLS’ top clubs.

However, the Dynamo have been contenders in the Eastern Conference for years. The club are just one season removed from back-to-back MLS Cup final appearances. With a roster full of experience and talent, the Dynamo have a real chance to not only contend during the regular season, but to reclaim some of that postseason magic.

Here is a closer look at the Houston Dynamo heading into the 2014 season:

HOUSTON DYNAMO SEASON PREVIEW

2013 FINISH:(14-11-9, Fourth in East)

KEY ACQUISITIONS: D David Horst, M Tony Cascio, D A.J. Cochran,

KEY LOSSES: D Bobby Boswell, F Brian Ching, F Calen Carr

NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Tony Cascio. Cascio became the league’s first intraleague loan when he joined from the Colorado Rapids in January. The 23-year-old has shown promise since being selected 14th in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft out of UConn. Look for Cascio to add depth to an already formidable midfield.

PRESSURE IS ON: Will Bruin. Bruin has proven to be the Dynamo’s best goalscoring threat. However, his goalscoring dropped 25 percent last season from his 2012 breakout, as he was only able to fire home eight times. Bruin will have to continue to perform quite a few more “Dancing Bear” routines if the Dynamo are to have any chance of fulfilling their postseason aspirations.

OUTLOOK

You generally know what you’re going to get when it comes to the Dynamo. They have proven time and time again that they are one of MLS’ top clubs. They have continued to play at the highest level and are generally regarded as a constant postseason threat, despite losing back-to-back MLS Cup Finals in 2011-12.

This year doesn’t appear to be any different down in Texas, as the Dynamo once again are favored to fight their way into the postseason. They may not have the talent of Sporting Kansas City or the money of Toronto FC or New York Red Bulls, but Houston have what it takes to contend in the always tough Eastern Conference.

It all starts up top with Bruin, who will have to replicate his 12 goal 2012 season. Joining Bruin will be Jamaican international Omar Cummings, who should be expected to feature in more than the 11 games he was limited to last season. Cummings has proven to be an effective scoring option during his time in Colorado, having scored 14 goals back in 2010. Dynamo supporters got a nice preview of exactly what Cummings can do during last season’s playoffs, as the speedster scored twice in just 194 playoff minutes. A healthy Cummings should pair up nicely with Bruin to give the Dynamo the attacking clout to push them to the next level.

The midfield boasts Garcia, Davis, Giles Barnes, Warren Creavalle and Ricardo Clarke, each of whom have proven to be solid MLS players. Each player knows his role and plays it well, as the Dynamo’s midfield is a unit that certainly looks dependable on paper.

Where questions begin to arise is the defense, as the departure of Bobby Boswell cannot be understated. Boswell appeared in at least 26 games in each of his six seasons in Houston, and the Dynamo are now forced to find themselves a new backline leader.

Boswell’s replacement will have to come from either Jermaine Taylor, David Horst or Eric Brunner, as the trio will battle it out for the two center back positions. Taylor is certainly a favorite to start, while former Portland Timbers Horst and Brunner will battle it out for the chance to join him in the starting XI. However, one of the three veterans will also have to step up to lead the defensive unit, as Boswell’s leadership and experience will be missed just as much as his overall play.

Luckily, the Dynamo boast one of the top fullback pairings in the league in Kofi Sarkodie and Corey Ashe. The Dynamo duo was very effective last year and they will have to continue to both attack and defend well in the absence of Boswell.

Tally Hall will prove to be Houston’s ace in the hole as he continues to be one of the league’s top keepers. Hall was rewarded for his play last summer with a call-up to the national team, despite not featuring for the Red, White and Blue. Hall will have to continue to play at an all-star level to allow fullbacks Sarkodie and Ashe the wiggle room to push forward.

Overall, Dominic Kinnear’s Dynamo once again have what it takes to contend. They have one of the league’s top managers, a dependable squad and invaluable postseason experience to fall back on. However, the Dynamo will have to make sure to build on that playoff success if this season is to be a success, as anything less than another trip to the MLS Cup Playoffs would be a disappointment.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP

Dynamo

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20 Responses to SBI MLS Season Preview: Houston Dynamo

  1. The Imperative Voice says:

    I think Dom cleared out some of the useless veterans. Weaver rarely scored. Ching went his whole last season without a goal. Carr missed most of his first season with a concussion and all of his second one with the knee injury. Boswell seemed even less mobile than before.

    But the offseason effort left something to be desired. The forward clearout was not really mirrored by a quality forward replacement effort. I like Cummings but I said last year he was a risky bet based on age and injury history…..he did make an important playoff contribution but so did Carr two years ago and a lot of good that did us. Cascio just adds to midfield depth. The CBs in for the challenge are journeymen. I don’t see upgrades. The team has been pretty good but not great enough for 3 years and really needs another Boniek, not more lunchpail types.

    This is a big season for Lopez, who was brought in as a young international and has basically disappeared. The fact he’s not even mentioned in the writeup says something about how that acquisition has gone.

    I foresee a traditional Dynamo season of muddling through to the summer in 5th-8th and then we’ll see what summer brings us. It may see Lopez and others out and a revamp up top.

    • Hogatroge says:

      From what I’ve heard, Horst can be a bonafide MLS starter…IF he can stay healthy.

      I was not impressed with Taylor last year, but if he can get back to 2012 levels, I think our CBs will be okay.

      • The Imperative Voice says:

        Taylor is erratic, Horst is borderline, Arena is a pick, Bruner is a journeyman.

        Horst was interesting but keeps getting hurt and so it’s like Carr, Cummings, Colin Clark, Driver, all the reclamation projects we keep bringing in. Only one who’s worked out well so far is Barnes, who I still think is being played out of spot.

  2. Bean says:

    Cascio may have shook things up a bit. To me, he has looked better than expected. I can see Dom moving OBG to the center and placing Cascio wide on the right.

    • The Imperative Voice says:

      Which would still not address the basic striking needs. We had pretty good midfield quality and depth last year and modest finishing. Lot of good balls into the box unfinished. Kinnear needs to remember in the golden years they could light up the scoreboard just as much as control a game. Controlling games gets us playoffs, but in key contests we need striking quality. I don’t see it yet so this summer I guess.

    • The Imperative Voice says:

      I also think central defense is a potential problem area. I like Taylor but he’s coming off an injury and can be inconsistent. And then it’s a bunch of “who?” journeymen signed up to pair him. They look as slow as last year at CB.

      • Bean says:

        Kinnear is putting his confidence in Bruin/Barnes. It didn’t work last season, and the Dynamo could not sign a proven striker to address the issue. I can only hope that they have had enough time to get it right. Points are going to be important right out of the gate now that the league is improving so quickly.

        Central defense is an unknown right now. I cannot even say how I think that they’ll do. JT is experienced, but coming off of an injury. Horst is coming off of an injury. Brunner is fairly new to the starting spot.

  3. Jason B says:

    ” They may not have the talent of Sporting Kansas City or the money of Toronto FC or New York Red Bulls, but Houston have what it takes to contend in the always tough Eastern Conference.”

    Same owners as LA Galaxy…..its not that they dont have the money its that the Galaxy is the “golden child”. What a shame.

    The forward position needs to be addressed. Will Bruin just isn’t that good…Hopefully he proves me wrong!

  4. Quit whining about soccer in the US says:

    How about a trade ? Houston needs a little more talent….some of Seattle’s depth for Dom Kinnear….he already has championships in Seattle, could use another.

    • islandofmind says:

      We already have Carrasco, depth for the Sounders, and so far depth for us. He does bring his girlfriend around from time to time though, that’s nice. I don’t see anyone else in Seattle’s depth chart at Forward or Center Back that would be a sure-fire starter. If you want Kinnear, you’ll have to mix in a whoooole lot of allocation money.

  5. Bean says:

    On another note, I’m certain that Creavalle will not be starting. He’s recovering from surgeries to his knees.

    • Hogatroge says:

      I think Clark will move back to DM, Boniek will move centrally, and Cascio will start on the right wing. Carrasco will back up Clark.

      • Bean says:

        That would be optimal IMO. Clark looks very good in the CDM spot.

      • The Imperative Voice says:

        But Boniek up the flank is one of our strong points. This is like moving Brad inside a couple years ago. Or Holden or Cameron before him. Waste of a wing. If you need a 10 sign one, don’t burn a good wing as an OK CAM.

  6. Never understimate DOM. He is clever gets the most from his players. I kew him in San Jose and even before when he was as youth player, he continually surprises people with positive results.
    JS

    • The Imperative Voice says:

      I grant what you say but the pithy riposte is all those playoff runs haven’t amounted to a title since the overall talent level of the team (eg, DeRo, ERob, Holden, Cameron) started eroding after the second Houston cup win. Some would argue that he has too much faith in slapping together veterans people overlook a la Moneyball and not enough interest in outright talent like Boniek. The Boniek acquisition is what has kept this team at its level despite a general erosion in talent.

      I don’t underestimate his ability to make the playoffs, but I’m not sure he grasps the talent level necessary to win it all in the 3 DP Era. If the other team shows up with Donovan, Keane, and Co. in the attack and your response is Bruin and Carr you will probably lose. He’s still trying to squeak by and I think that underestimates the quality of teams others can put together, LA, NY, KC, RSL.

      • Bean says:

        I agree with what you’re saying, Imperative Voice, but the decision may not be entirely up to Kinnear. I suspect that his budget is quite different from our AEG cousins in L.A., and he is forced to play moneyball.

        I absolutely agree that without Boniek, the Dynamo are essentially little better than DC United was last season. He has been essential to the Dynamo’s success. He’s likely one of the most important players in the league in terms of impact on results while he plays.

  7. Hal says:

    I suspect you’ve not had the opportunity to watch much of the Dynamo this season? The lineup is going to be a bit different from what you’ve projected here. Horst will start, not Brunner. Cascio is going to start on the right side while Garcia moves to the middle. Barnes and Bruin will play side-by-side.

    While everyone is talking about Bruin, they should be talking about Barnes, He led the team in scoring last season and comes into this season in much better physical shape, with a year of learning the forward position under his belt and unlike Bruin, he tore it up in the preseason. I will be very surprised if Barnes is not the leading scorer this season. I see him getting 10-15 goals, Brad Davis has said he thinks Barnes could get 15-20 goals.

  8. Jeter says:

    I’m really excited about the start of the 2014 season. Weaver, Ching, and Boswell are gone and Cummings is healthy and some new guys are now in the mix. Also, Barnes is FINALLY fit. He’s shed like 20 lbs supposedly from some boxing routine and is playing well. I like Creavalle but he’s still not fit because of his off season surgery. All in all I think Houston is going to have a great season. Here’s what my starting lineup looks like:

    Cummings Bruin
    Barnes
    Davis Garcia
    Clark
    Ashe Taylor Brunner Sarkodie
    Tally Hall