MLS ’11 Preview – Go East, Young Dynamo
TEAM: Houston Dynamo
COACH: Dominic Kinnear
2010 SEASON RESULTS: 9-15-6, 33 points, 7th place in Western Conference
Houston continues to retool their team, which two years ago finished first in the Western Conference. It seems not that long ago that they were busy winning their second MLS Cup after their move from California. But those days have gone, and while Brian Ching and Eddie Robinson still persist into their 30′s on this team, it’s obvious that a youth movement is underway along the Gulf Coast.
And necessary it is, especially on defense. Houston’s defense gave up the third most goals in the league last season. Their offensive output wasn’t poor, but when your highest goal total comes from your 32 year old striker Ching, there’s a need for a youth movement.
Houston will get a breath of fresh air entering this season as well. MLS has moved the Dynamo into the Eastern Conference, to make room for the new kids Portland and Vancouver. This should be a relief to the Dynamo, who were overwhelmed by the strength of the West.
ROSTER ADDITIONS: Most of the acquisitions made this offseason were to transition some youth into an aging defense. The highest profile of these additions was the #7 selection in the MLS SuperDraft, where they took Kofi Sarkodie from NCAA Champs Akron. As well, allocation money was given to Red Bull New York for the rights to right back Hunter Freeman, returning from Norwegian side IK Start. Jamaican international Jermaine Taylor was also obtained, as well as former DC United full back Jordan Graye from Portland for a 4th round pick. These additions should give Kinnear a number of options in the backfield.
To renew the front line, The Dynamo selected Will Bruin with their second first-round pick in the SuperDraft. The Indiana University product is a large, physical forward who they hope can develop into a quality target man. Also acquired was Jason Garey, a forward from Columbus, for a 4th round Superdraft pick in 2015.
ROSTER LOSSES: The most glaring loss was the retirement of goalkeeper Pat Onstad, a longtime Earthquake/Dynamo player. He went to DC United as a coach, and now is said to have come out of retirement at the age of 42. The offseason also saw the loss of two forwards who saw a lot of playing time in the Dynamo front line. Dominic Oduro and Joseph Ngwenya were both out of contract as the season ended, with Ngwenya being selected by DC United in the Re-Entry Draft. Oduro is currently a free agent. Midfielder Anthony Obodai, as well as defenders Ryan Cochrane and Richard Mulrooney, also left the team in the offseason. Add to this players like Craig Weibel and Luis Angel Landin who left in the summer of 2010, and the Dynamo are clearly a team looking for a new start.
PROJECTED STARTERS: With a team with so many new faces, it’s tough to predict what the opening match lineup will bring. I will work from what I consider to be the most likely to predict, then move down from there:
MIDFIELD: The least-changed element of this team was the midfield, so let’s start there. Brad Davis was one of the main offensive contributors to the 2010 team, so one would expect he would be an attacking wing midfielder, with Corey Ashe pairing opposite him. The central midfield should be manned by Geoff Cameron and Lovel Palmer.
GOALKEEPER: According to Coach Kinnear, Tally Hall is the frontrunner to be the heir to Onstad’s position in front of net. Thus far in preseason, he has featured with the first team, and it’s unlikely that Tyler Deric will earn the spot before the opener.
FORWARDS: With the loss of both Oduro and Ngwenya, the forward ranks look a little less convincing. At least to start the season, there should be a three-man rotation between Ching, Cam Weaver, and Jason Garey. Most of it will depend on the fitness of Ching, and whether he can withstand the rigors of the 34 game schedule.
DEFENSE: I think the defense will be the most volatile of the groups, especially in preseason as Kinnear decides on the best line going forward. If I had to guess, out of the halfbacks available, Robinson and Bobby Boswell will get the opening day nod, but Taylor and Andrew Hainault should challenge the elder statesman Robinson for a regular slot as the season progresses. Mike Chabala earned the starting left fullback spot last season, and will likely see the majority of playing time there. Newcomer Freeman seems to be destined to be a starting fullback, probably on the right, but will be looking over his shoulder as Sarkodie comes up to speed in the professional game. When that happens, expect Freeman to see time at left back.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The player who made the most strides as a youngster last season was Danny Cruz. He seems to be the player who is most likely to forge ahead into a more prominent role within the team. There are a number of longer-term projects, namely Academy products Francisco Navas-Cobo, Josue Soto, and Alex Dixon. Also in the competition for playing time will be the top draft choices, Sarkodie and Bruin. It’s unlikely this quintet will make a significant impact this season, but they represent the future of the club.
OUTLOOK: After “migrating” to the East, there may be a temptation to to field the best team, aiming towards that 3rd seed in a weak conference. That could hamper a long term rebuilding plan, which its clear that the Dynamo have started. If the Dynamo do play for the moment, I think they can push ahead into the Cup playoffs. Nonetheless, I expect Kinnear to foster along the youth within the team, and those growing pains will only serve to help the future of the franchise.
PREDICTION: 40 points, 6th Place, Eastern Conference.