The 2013 season ended for the Houston Dynamo in a place where they have had recent success, Sporting Park. After a loss in the Eastern Conference Final to eventual MLS Cup champions Sporting KC, the Dynamo turn their focus to the 2014 season and returning to winning silverware. A busy offseason has seen many Eastern Conference teams improve significantly. Has Houston done enough to stay competitive? Is no Champions League actually a good thing? Let’s break it down.
Club legend Brian Ching retired this offseason and while Ching did not play much (at all) last season, his void will still be felt. Losing a forward who didn’t play much wouldn’t have been a big problem but Cam Weaver and Calen Carr are also gone from the forward corps. Carr was slowed by his revoery from an ACL injury and Weaver was hot and cold in 2013 but both players provided good depth up front. Giles Barnes and Will Bruin cmobined to score 17 goals last season and they will be the two players counted on again in 2014 to find the net. After being injured for much of 2013, playoff hero Omar Cummings could be a huge piece to the puzzle, barring any injuries.
One of the few offseason moves for the Dynamo this offseason was bringing in midfielder Tony Cascio on loan from Colorado. Cascio became the first player to be loaned intraleague. All offseason I have been very high on the Cascio move and he has showed his worth this preseason. The Dynamo have not had a true attacking center midfielder since Dwayne De Rosario and Cascio finally fills that void. There were many nights in the press box at BBVA last season where I told anyone who would listen about the lack of creativity in the Dynamo midfield and no player who could drive the attack forward. Cascio will be that player.
The 4-1-2-1-2 formation led Dom Kinnear and the Dynamo to two MLS Cups and I think we could see it again in 2014. Ricardo Clark will play behind Cascio as a holding midfielder with Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia on the wings. If Cascio can live up to the hype I’m giving him, the Dynamo midfield could be the best in Major League Soccer.
While the midfield may be the league’s best, the defense is the biggest question mark. Tally Hall is a rock in goal but the four in front of him is a big question mark. Kofi Sarkodie and Corey Ashe will play fullback and both are good young players with pace who can join the attack as well as lock down opposing wide players. The question marks are at center back. Bobby Boswell is gone and Jamaican Jermaine Taylor will keep his place in the middle of the defense. Who starts alongside Taylor? Former Portland Timbers Eric Brunner and offseason acquistion David Horst are the two options. Brunner got time last year and in the playoffs when Taylor was hurt so I give him a slight edge to start on Saturday and for the majority of the season.
One name to keep an eye on this year is Brian Ownby. Ownby has played in almost every position and had a very successful loan spell at Richmond in 2013. Warren Creavalle and Ownby will both be valuable pieces off the bench. Their versatility is huge and will allow Kinnear to mix and match formations and tactics late in matches.
The 2014 season will not include CONCACAF Champions League play for the Dynamo. In my opinion this is a HUGE advantage. Champions League play comes with a back log of fixtures and all kinds of travel around CONCACAF. Unless you win the tournament, what good is it? Again, this is just my opinion but keeping the squad fresh for MLS play is much more important. Look for a much better mid-season run of form from Houston in 2014.
What are the expecations for the Dynamo this season? Silverware. The “make a run in the playoffs but fall short” season is good but it’s time to win something. We all know how Houston views the Open Cup so that leaves the Supporters Shield and MLS Cup as available trophies. Can the Dynamo win Supporters Shield? I think so. Will they? I doubt it. MLS Cup? Very winnable. The East will be tough but Houston has the skill and depth to make a run and Kinnear knows how to get a team hot at the right time. Trophy or bust? For me it is.
(image courtesy of Getty Images)