2013 MLS Previews: Houston Dynamo

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OVERVIEW

In 2012, the Houston Dynamo finished just one point ahead of the Columbus Crew for the fifth berth in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Once they got there, the Dynamo reached their second straight MLS Cup final as Eastern Conference champions. And, once again, they lost in the final to the Los Angeles Galaxy, missing out on claiming the third championship in the team’s nine-year history.

Dominic Kinnear returns for his tenth year in charge of Houston, having been the manager of the team when it relocated from San Jose during the 2005-06 offseason. He brought a championship to the franchise’s new city each of the first two years after the relocation; the Dynamo have yet to win a title since.

Can Kinnear keep the Dynamo playing at a high level, especially in an Eastern Conference where they will be challenged by several squads for the playoff spot they barely earned in 2012? Will they stay focused on the regular season while they are still alive in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League? Houston must manage to balance all of its competitions and stay focused lest they slip in the standings and miss the playoffs altogether in 2013.

PRESEASON PERFORMANCE

Feb 2, 2013; Tucson, AZ, USA; Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder/forward Kekuta Manneh (23) collides with Houston Dynamo defender Kofi Sarkodie (8) during the first half at Kino Sports Complex. Vancouver beat Houston 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Houston spent the first part of their preseason in Tucson, playing a trio of scrimmages at the Desert Friendlies. They opened their campaign with a 2-0 defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes, trialist Alexandre Emerson scoring twice against the team’s backup goalies due to Tally Hall’s trip to Honduras with the U.S. men’s national team. Trialist forward Calum Elliot scored the only goal for Houston in their next friendly, though he would later fail to land a contract with the club. The Arizona portion of the preseason concluded in Tucson with a 2-1 defeat to the Vancouver Whitecaps as Houston dropped a first-half lead.

Returning to Texas for a week, the Dynamo played a pair of scrimmages against local universities. The first ended just about as lopsided as a fan might expect as Houston knocked off Houston Baptist University 6-1, their youngsters and trialists beating up on the collegiate team. They returned two nights later to face Southern Methodist University. The Mustangs played tenaciously against their MLS opposition, taking a 1-0 lead into halftime after Eric Brunner scored an own goal past Hall. SMU would extend the lead to 2-0 in the 60th minute, but two late goals spared the Dynamo total embarrassment in the 2-2 draw.

From there Houston traveled east to play in the Carolina Challenge Cup. Scores by Adam Moffat and Cam Weaver were not enough to prevent falling 3-2 to the Chicago Fire in their opening match in Charleston. They rallied from a deficit in their second match to gain a modicum of vengeance for their loss to the Whitecaps in Arizona, earning a 2-1 victory this time. But their final match was even more stunning than the SMU result, as the Charleston Battery of the USL Pro league knocked off the Dynamo 3-2 in the finale. Houston finished the preseason 3-4-1, looking out of sync and giving Kinnear and his staff plenty of work to do ahead of the opener.

ROSTER OUTLOOK FOR 2013

U.S. men’s national team goalkeeper Tally Hall set a new club record last season with 12 shutouts in 33 starts, finishing the year with a 1.18 goals-against average and a 14-8-11 record. He has been in goal for the Dynamo in 67 of their past 68 regular-season matches and played every minute of their back-to-back postseason runs to the final. Tyler Deric, the first Dynamo Academy prospect to make the senior club, has been a mostly-unused backup and incurred a loss last year in his only start in relief. The team also brought in 20-year-old Erich Marscheider last season, though he has yet to appear in any MLS matches.

Jan 31, 2013; Tucson, AZ, USA; Houston Dynamo defender Bobby Boswell (32) heads the ball against Colorado Rapids midfielder Dillon Powers (8) during the second half at Kino Sports Complex. Houston defeated Colorado 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Not much will change in defense for the Dynamo, where 2006 MLS Defender of the Year Bobby Boswell and Jamaican international Jermaine Taylor will continue to lock down the center of the back line. 2011 MLS SuperDraft pick Kofi Sarkodie will patrol the right fullback spot, while Houston veteran Corey Ashe takes up his usual spot on the left side. Eric Brunner, acquired from the Portland Timbers in the offseason, and versatile 2012 SuperDraft selection Warren Creavalle provide depth across the back line for the Dynamo.

Ricardo Clark, who returned last September from a two-year stint in Europe, is back to provide veteran leadership in central midfield. Beside him will be Scottish midfielder Adam Moffat, a fixture on each of the past two MLS Cup finals squads. Giles Barnes and Luiz Camargo provide depth at the position, allowing Kinnear to change his lineup for a more offensive or defensive look. On the wings, Brad Davis returns for his ninth season as an original member of the Dynamo and will take up on the right side of midfield. Honduran international Boniek Garcia, who joined the club as a Designated Player last June, will lock down the left side. Limited depth on either wing is provided by Homegrown youngster Alex Dixon and English winger Andrew Driver, on loan from Hearts of Midlothian of the Scottish Premier League.

23-year-old Will Bruin had a breakout season for the Dynamo in 2012, scoring 12 goals in the regular season and four more in the playoffs. He has solidified his spot as Houston’s main scoring threat; who will join him up front is another question. Omar Cummings came over from Colorado in the offseason, and the Dynamo hope he can return to the form that saw him score 14 goals in the Rapids’ run to the MLS Cup championship in 2010. He will challenge incumbent forwards Brian Ching, Calen Carr and Cam Weaver for playing time alongside Bruin. The team also has young Jamaican Jason Johnson and Academy graduate Bryan Salazar in the roster.

FINAL NOTES

For the Dynamo, this season’s goals are no different than they have been the past two seasons. Anything less than a third consecutive MLS Cup appearance will be a disappointment, and should they fail to claim the trophy even that will be a downer. Kinnear has a veteran roster that has been here before and knows what it will take to reach their goals; the biggest obstacles will be a crowded calendar that diverts Houston’s focus from the main task at hand and a deep conference that will allow no margin for error.