With just eight points from their last twelve games and just four points on the road all season, it looks like the Houston Dynamo are going to miss the playoffs for only the second time in their franchise history. 2014 has been an extremely frustrating season for Dynamo fans but could it have been better? What’s wrong with the Dynamo? Here are a few of my thoughts on that last question.
The answer to the first question, could the season have been better, is no. This team came into 2014 with hopes of another playoff run but looking back at it, we should have seen the signs. For the past few years the Dynamo have been just good enough to get to the playoffs. When they ended up making a run, we were left thinking that everything was good and this team was a contender. That isn’t the case.
If you follow the Houston Astros you will remember the team’s run to the 2005 World Series. The Astros were swept in that World Series but fans and management were thrilled with the team and the direction they assumed it was going. Years later Astros fans would look back and realize that World Series run was really a negative for the team. They made a run to the playoffs and to the World Series but there were holes all over the roster. They had older players and big contracts clogging the ability to bring in new talent. Young talent was non-existent. Sound familiar?
Let me start with the holes on the roster. It’s well known that a good team has a good spine, its players down the middle of the field. Take a look at the Dynamo spine and you begin to see why this team is struggling. Tally Hall is a good MLS goalkeeper. He’s not great but he’s solid enough to win with. The center of defense is a black hole. Jermaine Taylor and David Horst have been bad. Bad. Eric Brunner has been oft injured but even with him in the lineup, the team likely wouldn’t have done much better. In five of their last eleven games, Houston has allowed three or more goals. They’ve given up two in four others.
In central midfield the Dynamo roster is full of defensive midfielders. Luis Garrido looks like a player and Ricardo Clark is solid, yet aging. Servando Carrasco backs up both of these players but hardly sees the field. Problem: there are no attacking midfielders in the Dynamo center midfield. Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia attack well on the flanks but nothing ever comes through the middle. Watch twenty minutes or so of any Dynamo game. The attack is exclusively wide. If the attack stalls wide they pass the ball around the perimeter of the eighteen yard box until they get it to the other side to try a cross from there. No one beats anyone to attack the heart of a defense. To be honest, it’s frustrating to watch.
Up front, Will Bruin and Giles Barnes have been ok. Barnes works his tail off and Bruin leads the team in goals. There are still some things that could be fixed up front, mainly Bruin’s conversion rate. He has talked before about thinking too much when he gets in front of goal in one on one situations. This was evident Saturday when Bruin broke in alone but was denied, albeit by a good save. Watch the Gilberto goal from the Toronto v Chicago game. That is a confident goal scorer. Barnes has the confidence but doesn’t get as many chances. Unfortunately this isn’t a problem that can necessarily be coached. It’s just something that has to be learned and there is still a chance that this happens.
So the big question, can this be fixed and it is an easy fix? I mentioned earlier about the Astros having no youth to fall back on when they needed to bring in talent. They tried to bandage things with expensive veterans. Where’s the young talent on the Dynamo? Garrido, Barnes, Bruin, and Sarkodie are probably the building blocks to point to. There isn’t much in pipeline though. Brian Ownby rarely plays. Alex Lopez is turning in to a bust. Jason Johnson is still raw. AJ Cochran is promising. The cupboard isn’t bare but I for one would like to see these guys get more time out on the field. Especially now with the season going nowhere, let the kids play, see what you’ve got. It’s the only way to know.
Can this be fixed with the current roster? Maybe. A change in tactics would help in my opinion. The Louis van Gaal 3-5-2 that worked so well with the Dutch national team and is being implemented at Manchester United could work. There would need to be one to two center backs brought in, also Manchester United’s problem, but the pieces are there. DaMarcus Beasley and Kofi Sarkodie would make good wing backs and a midfield three of Davis, Garrido/Clark, and Boniek would work well in this formation.
In short, there are a lot of issues. Can Kinnear make this work? I think so. Will it take time? Probably. Hopefully Dynamo fans realize this and don’t fall back on the false sense of hope they’ve had recently. With the expansion draft looming, this offseason will be huge. With the right moves this team could compete next season. Only time will tell.
(image courtesy of Jenna Watson/Columbus Dispatch)