By IVES GALARCEP
For 45 minutes in the 2012 MLS Cup Final, the Houston Dynamo looked like they could win a championship. The Los Angeles Galaxy may have rallied and ultimately pulled out the trophy-winning victory, but what we saw from the Dynamo was a glimpse of just how good they could be.
Three months later, the Dynamo are not only bringing back all the key pieces that impressed us so much in their second straight run to the MLS Cup Final, they have managed to add some key pieces to make them even stronger.
Enter Omar Cummings and Andrew Driver, two players who will be expected to step in and provide a significant boost to an already stacked lineup.
What also has to be considered about the Dynamo and their chances of winning the Eastern Conference yet again is the fact that they will now have a full season of playing home games at BBVA Compass Stadium, and a full season of having the mercurial Oscar Boniek Garcia in the lineup.
With added depth, and the motivation of two straight MLS Cup Final losses, the Dynamo have everything in place to not only challenge for the MLS Supporters Shield, but also to get back to the MLS Cup and take care of some unfinished business.
Here is a closer look at the Houston Dynamo heading into the 2013 season:
HOUSTON DYNAMO SEASON PREVIEW
2012 FINISH: (14-9-11, Fifth in East)
KEY ACQUISITIONS: Omar Cummings, Andrew Driver, Jason Johnson, Eric Brunner, Anthony Arena.
KEY LOSSES: Andre Hainault, Je-Vaughn Watson, Colin Clark, Colin Rolfe, Josue Soto.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Andrew Driver. The Scottish winger gives the team some valuable midfield depth and could allow Oscar Boniek Garcia to play a more central role.
PRESSURE IS ON: Omar Cummings. The Jamaican striker was brought in to give the Dynamo attack a dangerous speed element. A knee injury has kept him sidelined in pre-season, but Houston needs him at his best if the Dynamo are going to be a true title contender. Cummings will also be looking to show that his recent struggles in Colorado were a fluke, and that he is still one of the league’s most dangerous forwards.
When the Dynamo sold Geoff Cameron last summer the initial reaction was that it would wind up hurting Houston in a way that would eliminate them as a serious contender. What the move actually did was allow the Dynamo to revamp their roster and make the team even stronger (a process that began last summer with the arrivals of Boniek Garcia and Ricardo Clark).
A look at the Dynamo from top to bottom reveals a team with very few real flaws. Start with the defense, which came together late in the season thanks to the outstanding play of Jamaican centerback Jermaine Taylor and the maturation of young fullback Kofie Sarkodie. Those two, combined with veteran centerback Bobby Boswell and established speedy left back Corey Ashe give Houston a defense that can defend and also contribute to the attack.
Depth in the back can be seen as a concern, with Andre Hainault’s departure costing the team one of their best bench options. Eric Brunner joins the Dynamo from Portland, and his versatility should help offset the loss of Hainault.
The team’s collection of forwards is deep and talented, led by Will Bruin, who enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2013 and could be ready challenge the league’s best forwards for scoring honors. Especially with the arrival of Jamaican speedster Omar Cummings as his new strike partner. Dom Kinnear needed to find a fast forward option to cover for Calen Carr’s ACL surgery recovery, and he did that and then some by upgrading the position with Cummings.
While it is unclear just when Carr might return, if at all in 2013, the Dynamo did succeed in bringing back Dynamo icon Brian Ching for another season. He can’t be expected to play starters minutes anymore, but Ching still brings a physical presence off the bench, and can be called on to start on occasion. The Dynamo also added a very promising forward prospect in the draft in J.J. Johnson, who could wind up making an impact in his first season under Kinnear’s guidance.
Where the Dynamo will really cause problems for opponents is in midfield, where the tandem of Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia is so tough for any opponent to contain. The addition of Driver will make Houston even tougher to deal with if he can prove to be a dangerous option on the right wing. If so, Boniek Garcia could be slotted into a central role and Kinnear could tinker with a 4-2-3-1.
The central midfield tandem of Ricardo Clark and Adam Moffatt don’t get many headlines, or create a ton of highlight reel moments (save for Moffatt’s occasional long-range bombs), but the pair make things difficult for opponents by closing space and squeezing playmakers out of their comfort zone. Kinnear will have the option to go with just one defensive midfielder at times, but against the tougher attacks in the league he will likely want to have the Clark-Moffatt duo on the field to snuff out opposing threats.
Tally Hall returns after another steady season in goal, a 2012 season that saw him play the best soccer of his career. He earned a U.S. National Team call-up for his efforts, and if he continues to improve we could see him take his place in the Goalkeeper of the Year conversation in 2013.
One area of concern for the Dynamo is addressing the team’s disappointing road results. They should be a force at home once again, particularly with the narrow field at BBVA Compass Stadium making it easier to close down opponents, but if they are going to pass Sporting Kansas City for the top spot in the regular season Eastern Conference standings, and contend for the Supporters Shield, they will need to be better on the road.
With the additions of Cummings and Driver, and the continued emergence of Bruin and Sarkodie, and the year-long presence of Boniek Garcia, the Dynamo should be among the best teams in MLS during the regular season, and they have all the elements to be on the winning end of an MLS Cup Final after spending the past two seasons watching the Galaxy celebrate.