“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” said a famous philosopher centuries ago, but he may as well have been writing for MLS Talk about the 2011 Eastern Conference champions. The Houston Dynamo took advantage of a weak conference and a hot streak to face the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS Cup last season. This is not to take anything away from the Dynamo: they are a very talented team centered around 2011 revelations Tally Hall, Geoff Cameron, and Brad Davis. To dismiss this team as a one-year wonder could be a mistake, as they return most of their conference championship line-up in 2012 as well as their most critical component: Dominic Kinnear.
However, the team does face some critical questions in the new year, questions that require some attention in the few months remaining before First Kick 2012. As such, here are “Three Questions” about the Houston Dynamo:
1. Who will play up front?
The big offseason story for the Dynamo (more than the stadium naming or the rumor that AEG might sell their stake in the club) is that legend Brian Ching has accepted his role as a member of the Montreal Impact (for background see the article I wrote late last year). While it allows the club to move forward without sacrificing a good player to Montreal and with a little more cap space, the impact (no pun intended) of Ching being left unprotected will resonate with the fans and their view of management. Setting that aside, the loss also leaves the team with a bit of a gap at the forward position, especially considering that Carlo Costly has moved on to Atlas.
Currently, the club has three forwards under contract: Calen Carr, Will Bruin, and Cam Weaver. All three are good players, none of them are currently consistent top-level goal scorers the team needs to take advantage of Brad Davis’s assists. While the team has limited cap space (more on this below) they need to find that Blas Perez-type consistent, veteran presence who they know will finish the chances the midfield will create.
2. Is the defense the best in MLS, or as good as it looks?
Don’t look know, but Houston may be challenging Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake for the best defense in the league. It may not be this year, but probably soon. Start with keeper Tally Hall, who made a huge step forward last season to enter into top-flight MLS keeper status with an excellent year. In his late twenties, he is approaching the prime years for a keeper and looks to add some polish to his already impressive game.
In front of Hall is a back line that is coming together nicely. Bobby Boswell and Geoff Cameron form a good center back pairing that lacks the pizazz of some other partnerships, but is effective for the team. The two starting full backs (Andre Hainault and Corey Ashe) look to have established themselves as ideal for the positions. Right now Houston does not have the best defense in MLS, but with an offseason of growth we may soon be speaking of them with the likes of Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Real Salt Lake.
3. What’s the money situation?
Ownership has already made a few moves to bolster the team, specifically making a trade to acquire Nathan Sturgis from wheeling-dealing Toronto FC. However, ownership has stressed that they will be making do with little cap space. These pronouncements come at an odd time: the new stadium has a naming-rights deal and the team even has a small local TV deal. However, the biggest financial question mark is the announcement by AEG that they want to sell their 50% stake in the team. This is a positive development for the league (anyone who says last year’s MLS Cup was not a conflict of interest is crazy) but how the salaries will be managed until the deal is complete may limit the team’s financial flexibility. Keep an eye on this situation.