Houston Dynamo Season Preview Part III: Midfield


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This is Part III in a six part season preview:

Part I: Goalkeepers

Part II: Defense

Part III: Midfield

Part IV: Forwards

Part V: Tactical and Lineup Outlook

Part VI: Season Predictions

Midfield is by far the deepest area of the Houston Dynamo roster. Options include: Brad Davis, Ricardo Clark, Boniek Garcia, Tony Cascio, Warren Creavalle, Andrew Driver, Servando Carrasco, Alex Lopez, Brian Ownby, Giles Barnes, Bryan Salazar and Jason Johnson. That is an incredible amount of depth for an MLS roster and a pretty fair amount of talent as well.

Coming into the preseason, the biggest concern was how the Dynamo would fully utilize the depth, manage playing time and who would provide cover on the flanks when Garcia and possibly Davis are away on World Cup duty. The issue of depth on the flanks was addressed early on through the re-signing of Driver and bringing Cascio in on loan from the Colorado Rapids. Injuries kept Driver from playing much in the preseason, but we know what to expect from him. Cascio did play and has been an absolute revelation.

For much of the preseason, Cascio played right midfield. It is clear, however, that he is more comfortable on the left and he has shown a tendency to drift towards the middle when playing on the right side. Nevertheless, he provided an attacking impetus that led to him tying Giles Barnes as leading scorer during the preseason with 5. Cascio has played so well that I believe we will see him starting on the right side on March 8th with Garcia pushed inside as a central attacking midfielder.

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Davis, he of the magic left foot, starts on the left side. At age 32, Davis is entering the last phase of his career. His set piece quality slipped a bit last season and Garcia has taken over some of those duties, however he is still deadly accurate as a passer. Davis remains a critical part of everything the Dynamo do. With a spot in Brazil at stake, expect Davis to have a strong first half of the season. There is the risk, however, that the demands of the World Cup result in a dip in form for Davis thereafter.

The move to the inside will see Garcia in position to create more scoring opportunities for the forwards as well as for himself. His creativity on the ball and passing skills make him a good fit in the attacking midfielder role. Garcia also gets back and defends well, an absolute necessity for a central midfielder in the Dynamo system.

Clark is the rock of the midfield. A year ago he played the more advanced role in the central pairing. As a result, he netted the highest goal tally of his career: 4. As a play maker however, Clark was lacking. All too often when he was driving forward with the ball he saw opportunities for key passes too late or missed them altogether. Playing his more traditional holding midfielder spot with Garcia being the play maker pushing forward will be more comfortable for Clark and will put him in a better position to support the center of the defense by breaking up plays right in front of them.

If Garcia in the middle and Cascio on the right does not work out, we will likely see the Dynamo revert to the lineup they had late last season with Creavalle starting alongside Clark. Creavalle missed the entire preseason with an injury but is back in light training now. Creavalle lacks the experienced polish of Clark but makes up for it with sheer athleticism. At times last season, Creavalle seemed to be everywhere at once and generally did a solid job of breaking up attacks. Carrasco is an option as well and has looked good when called upon.

The biggest disappointment of last season and most of this preseason has been Lopez. For a player who came over for a reported transfer fee of $1 million as a young designated player, Lopez has been underwhelming. He seldom played last season with fitness generally given as the primary reason. During most of the preseason he was outplayed by every midfielder on the roster, including trialist Sito Seaone. In the last couple of weeks, however, he has shown flashes of technical talent. His passing, in particular, has looked sharp and clever. Still, Lopez is slow to get back on defense and generally does not appear to have a high work rate which are two requirements of a Dom Kinnear midfielder.

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Kinnear played Lopez as a defensive midfielder for most of the preseason, perhaps as a way of working on his defensive skills and tracking back. It did not seem to do much good and it is hard to see Lopez getting significant playing time unless he improves. It would be wrong to label a 21-year old player who has not yet played a full season a bust, but Lopez is definitely trending in that direction. Lopez clearly has talent, but may be better suited for a far more technical league than MLS.

Brian Ownby started the preseason with promise but was pushed down the pecking order on the right side of the midfield by Cascio’s performance. Kinnear pushing Ownby to right back in several preseason matches does not bode well for his playing time in the midfield. Barnes looks firmly entrenched as a starter at forward rather than the attacking midfielder spot we all hoped to see him in. Jason Johnson has been played on the left side of the midfield quite frequently. From my standpoint this is a waste. He has looked sharp as a forward, but totally confused and out of place as a midfielder. Johnson has some talent, but I fear he may be lost in this roster at the moment and the best option may be to send him on loan to Pittsburgh.

Conclusion: While nobody in the Dynamo midfield is considered a superstar (yet), this is as solid a group as there is in MLS. If Cascio can carry his goal scoring form from the preseason over into the regular season and if Garcia becomes the dangerous central attacking midfielder that the Dynamo have lacked since Dwayne De Rosario left town, then this becomes the best group in MLS. Plenty of depth leaves the Dynamo able to withstand most injuries and World Cup departures. What the Dynamo could do from a tactical standpoint to maximize the value of the depth here will be discussed in Part V of this season preview.

Position Grade: B+ (A if Garcia in the middle and Cascio on the right works out)

Next up: a review of the forwards.

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