This is Part VI in a six part Houston Dynamo season preview:
Part VI: Season Predictions
2013 In Review
It is difficult to label a season in which you make it to your 6th Conference Championship in 8 years as a disappointment. However, after back-to-back MLS Cup Final appearances and the best start to a season in franchise history, the way in which the Dynamo meandered through most of the season was disappointing. Injuries and national team call-ups took their toll as the Dynamo rarely were able to field their preferred starting XI.
By the end of the season, a relatively healthy Dynamo team managed to sneak into the playoffs in 4th place on the final weekend of the season, finishing on 41 points with a record of 14-11-9. Once in the playoffs, normal service returned as the Dynamo blasted Montreal Impact and upset #1 seed New York Red Bulls before injuries and fatigue once again reared their ugly head in a 2-1 aggregate loss to eventual champions, Sporting Kansas City.
Departures: Bobby Boswell (D.C. United), Brian Ching (retired), Calen Carr (out of contract), Alex Dixon (released), Erich Marscheider (option declined), Cam Weaver (option declined)
Arrivals: David Horst (trade, Portland), Tony Cascio (loan, Colorado), AJ Cochran (draft), Mark Sherrod (draft), Michael Lisch (draft)
2014 At A Glance
Houston Dynamo fans have grown to expect success year-in and year-out. Coming into this season, the big roster moves made by the likes of Toronto, New England, Philadelphia and D.C. United have left some Dynamo fans feeling a bit disgruntled over a perceived lack of action by the Dynamo. This point of view ignores two realities, however: 1) when the Dynamo had their preferred players on the pitch (particularly Boniek Garcia) they had one of the best records in Major League Soccer, 2) the Dynamo had virtually no room under the salary cap this season so little flexibility to make any moves.
Boswell could not be re-signed given Will Bruin and Kofi Sarkodie were coming off Generation Adidas contracts such that their salaries now count against the cap. Any moves had to be economical; hence the trade for Horst and the bringing of Cascio in on loan. A big name move would have meant blowing up a roster which was strong when healthy last season.
The biggest issues coming into this season relate to the backline (can Boswell be replaced), the forwards (will they convert opportunities) and the World Cup (the Dynamo played poorly last season when Garcia and Davis were away).
Tally Hall – The shot stopper was the team MVP last season and will likely be called on early and often to save the Dynamo this season; at least until the defense gels sufficiently to slow down the opposition.
Ricardo Clark – With Warren Creavalle still sidelined with injury, it looks likely that Garcia will start in center midfield alongside Clark. Garcia is a far less defensive minded player than Clark’s partners last year – Adam Moffat and Creavalle. Clark will move back to the holding midfielder role and will play a far more critical role, often on his own, of protecting the back line by breaking up attacks before they reach the defense.
Giles Barnes – Some might pick Bruin as a key player given he is thought to be the Dynamo primary goal scorer. However, with Bruin continuing to struggle through the preseason, it is the Dynamo leading goal scorer of last season who looks most ready to provide the offense this season. Barnes is in much better shape than last season and knocked in 5 goals during the preseason.
Three Reasons Why Houston Will Succeed in 2014
1. Continuity – The Dynamo have a team that was strong last season when healthy and made a good run in the playoffs. They have retained the core of that team while adding a few new pieces. For all the shiny new toys that a team like Toronto has, bringing a lot of new players together rarely results in immediate results. Teams need time to gel and create chemistry, something this Dynamo team already has.
2. Stronger This Season – I believe Barnes will be better this season than last, the Dynamo have a healthy Omar Cummings and it is difficult to believe that Bruin will struggle as much as he did last season. Cascio looks a good acquisition who will add to the offensive firepower of the team and Horst has the potential to be as good as Boswell once he gets his legs underneath him.
3. Dom Kinnear – Kinnear simply knows how to get his teams to win when they need to. His track record with the Dynamo (4 MLS Cup Final appearances, 6 Conference Championship appearances, 7 playoff appearances in 8 years) speaks for itself. Many pundits have picked against the Dynamo in the past and generally have learned from the experience.
Three Reasons Why Houston Will Fail in 2014
1. Rival Improvement – In a league that already had a high degree of parity last season, most of the Dynamo rivals have gotten better. Toronto and D.C. had major makeovers, Philadelphia and New England added key pieces to teams that were already good, Chicago gets a full season of Mike Magee. The Dynamo barely made it into the playoffs last season, they may not be so lucky this season
2. Lack of Goals – Bruin struggled with confidence last season and missed more quality chances than he converted. In preseason, Bruin looked no better than last season in scoring only 1 goal. Cummings has a history of injury leaving some doubt as to whether the Dynamo can count on him. Set piece goals, a Dynamo forte, disappeared last season and the best set piece goal scorers the Dynamo have had in recent years are all no longer with the team.
3. World Cup Call-ups – The Dynamo struggled last season when they did not have the creativity of Garcia in the midfield. If Davis gets a World Cup call-up as well then that will leave the Dynamo without their two best play makers for an extended period of time; when they return they may struggle with post-World Cup fatigue. The Dynamo are almost certain to go through a mid-season swoon as a result. Can they minimize the damage?
This season is more difficult to predict than most. Very little separated the top 7 teams in the Eastern Conference last season and the conference has only gotten more difficult during the off-season. I can make a strong case for the Dynamo to finish anywhere from 2nd place to 8th place, depending on a wide variety of variables. My base case scenario is that the Dynamo get off to a slightly slower start than last season, pick it up until they run into World Cup call-ups at which point they hit a mid-season swoon. As has been the case the past two seasons, they finish the season strong and make the playoffs. Once there, as the Dynamo have demonstrated in the past, anything can happen.
I believe that at the end of the season, Barnes will be the leading scorer for the Dynamo and Bruin will have been moved to the bench. Meanwhile, the moves for Horst and Cascio will look like strokes of genius. I do not think that Toronto will be as good as people think and don’t see them making the playoffs; too many pieces to meld together and too little depth. Philadelphia will be much better with the midfield improvements they have made, New England will be roughly the same. I see a down year for Montreal, Columbus and Chicago (I do not believe that Mike Magee can match the season he had last year). Sporting Kansas City and New York will remain the class of the East; as with the Dynamo, they have roughly the same sides as last season.
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Sporting Kansas City
2. New York Red Bulls
3. New England Revolution
4. Houston Dynamo
5. Philadelphia Union
6. Toronto FC
7. Chicago Fire
8. Montreal Impact
9. D.C. United
10. Columbus Crew
For parts I-V of the Houston Dynamo season preview you can click the links at the top of this article or simply click “next” below.
Follow House Of Houston - @HouseOfHouston
Follow Hal Kaiser - @MIBS98