In a league full of coaching changes, the Houston Dynamo always had stability in that area. All of that changed at the end of the 2014 season. The only coach Houston has ever known, Dominic Kinnear left to take the head job in San Jose, leaving the Dynamo to do something they’ve never done, hire a head coach. Enter Owen Coyle. And that was just the start of a busy offseason.
Last offseason saw the Dynamo make limited moves. Fast forward a year and the coaching staff wasn’t the only thing rebuilt. Gone are Tally Hall, Eric Brunner, Anthony Arena, Tony Cascio, Andrew Driver, Servando Carrasco, Mark Sherrod, and Omar Cummings. And say hello to Oumar Ballo, Chandler Hoffman, Taylor Hunter, Rob Lovejoy, Leonel Miranda, Memo Rodriguez, Raul Rodriguez, Zach Steinberger, Nathan Sturgis, Joe Willis, and Cubo Torres (in July).
Hoffman and Sturgis were acquired in the re-entry draft. Both will provide depth and likely not see a lot of playing time. Sturgis, in his second stint in Houston, can play in the center of midfield and provide cover for Ricardo Clark and Alex Lopez. Hoffman, a once bright prospect, is a forward who will fall in line behind the bevy of strikers already in Houston. Ballo, Hunter, Lovejoy, and Steinberger were all SuperDraft picks and barring a rash of injuries or suspensions, shouldn’t play much. Loans to new USL affiliate Charleston are likely for these rookies. Memo Rodriguez, a homegrown signing, could also see time in Charleston this season.
As for the new players who will make an impact, the big headliner is Mexican forward Erick “Cubo” Torres. Cubo spent last season on loan from Chivas Guadalajara with now defunct Chivas USA. After scoiring 22 goals in 44 MLS appearances over 2 seasons, Torres was unavailable in the Chivas USA dispersal draft as the league worked on a permanent contract for his return to the States. Days before Christmas that deal was reached, Torres signing permanently with the Dynamo and was loaned back to Chivas Guadalajara for the first six months of 2015.
The signing of Torres is huge for the Dynamo both on and off the field. Houston has needed a Mexican star for years. There is a large Mexican population in Houston and it is a market waiting to be tapped. Torres just turned 22 years old and has made 3 appearances for the senior Mexican national team, scoring once. When he arrives in July (or perhaps sooner), he will bring a scoring punch up front that could make the Dynamo offense one of the most prolific in the league. He’s familiar with MLS so he won’t have a learning curve that a lot of designated player signings could have. Now the orange faithful continue to watch Guadalajara games, hope Cubo gets some playing time, stays healthy, and await his arrival at BBVA Compass Stadium.
While Torres starts the year in LigaMX, the Dynamo will still boast a formidable attack. Giles Barnes comes off a team MVP season where he scored 11 goals and added 5 assists. Barnes is a workhorse and his game has translated perfectly to MLS. He has continued to blossom and should continue his progression in 2015 under new boss Owen Coyle. I have long viewed Barnes as a #10, and he recently changed his number to reflect that, but he will likely continue to play up front with Will Bruin. Until Cubo arrives.
Cubo will start and Barnes won’t be the one going to the bench. The first half of the season will be crucial for Will Bruin. The oft maligned forward could be in a make or break season. When Cubo arrives it could be Bruin who heads to the bench. The midfield is stacked, which I’ll get to in a moment, so it seems Bruin is the odd man out, barring a switch to a 3-5-2. Chandler Hoffman was acquired in the re-entry draft and while he hasn’t lived up to his hype so far in his MLS career, he could be a diamond in the rough.
As was the case last season, the Dynamo midfield is clearly the team’s strongest unit. The starting midfield could include 4 players who have played in a World Cup: Ricardo Clark, Brad Davis, Boniek Garcia, and Luis Garrido. Davis and Boniek will play wide with Clark and Garrido being the defensive workhorses in the middle. With those two players being able to sit back and defend, it will allow the wingers the freedom to get forward and provide service to Barnes, Bruin, and eventually Cubo. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see both Davis and Boniek finish with 10 or more assists in 2015.
With the Gold Cup this summer, the Dynamo could lose a number of their starting midfielders. Guys like Nathan Sturgis, Alex Lopez and new signing Leonel Miranda will be given the chance to step up in the starters’ absences. Lopez, a young designated player, really needs to step up this season. He hasn’t had much of a chance in the past but he should see the field a lot more in 2015. Miranda, signed on loan, should fill the “Andrew Driver role” nicely. As it has been for the past few years in Houston: how the midfield goes, the Dynamo go.
Center back has been a problem for the Dynamo of late. Of course, Bobby Boswell was let go and he had a career year last year but the Dynamo can’t dwell on that. New signing Raul Rodriguez should fill the hole in the center of the Houston defense. The Spanish defender comes over with La Liga experience and paired alongside either Jermain Taylor or AJ Cochran, will greatly improve the backline. Kofi Sarkodie and DaMarcus Beasley will start at outside backs with Corey Ashe available to slide in to either position should the veteran Beasley need a break or if and when suspensions occur.
Tyler Deric will begin his first full season as the Houston keeper after taking over for the injured Tally Hall last season. Hall was traded to expansion team Orlando City in the offseason, leaving no controversy over who would start. Deric played very well last season and I would expect him to continue to grow into a top level keeper in MLS. Backup Joe Willis was acquired in a trade from DC and brings a solid option behind Deric.
The biggest question mark for the Dynamo in 2015? It has to be new coach Owen Coyle. The Scot has loads of experience, having coached in the English Premier League. How will he adjust to MLS? Time will tell but expectations are high. People have impressions of Coyle and his tactics from watching his previous teams play. MLS is such a different animal, I’ll withhold judgment for now. Just remember, as the season progresses, I started the #SirOwen hashtag.
Last season in my Dynamo preview I said the Dynamo expectations for the season should be silverware. Well, that expectation was not even close to coming to fruition. After missing the playoffs for just the second time in team history and bringing in a new coach, this season’s expectations will be much less than last year. Under Coyle, I think the Dynamo will actually take the US Open Cup seriously. Why not? It’s by far the easiest path to the Champions League and a tournament the Dynamo have never appeared in the final, much less won. As for the MLS season, a playoff appearance is achievable, even after moving back to the tough Western Conference. Will they do it, I lean towards no. But as I have pointed out, I’m often wrong. And I wouldn’t really mind being wrong again.
(image courtesy of mlssoccer.com)