2010 Houston Preview: All systems go for the Dynamo?

Houston launches into 2010 -- without Holden and Clark

The Tweet and Lowdown:

The Dynamo face a few insecurities heading into the 2010 season,
but who in Houston is ready for a breakout season?

Setting the Scene:

The Houston Dynamo played five games before winning their first on
April 19, but that victory against the Colorado Rapids sent Dominic Kinnear's
men on a 10-game unbeaten tear for 26 points. The Los Angeles Galaxy stopped
the run -- and later Houston’s season in a bizarre Western Conference
championship game.

Kinnear, as expected, built his 2009 team around a solid defensive
core, and Houston finished the regular season tied for the league’s best
defense. Many pointed to Stuart Holden’s breakout year as the highlight of the
Dynamo’s season, but now it’s Holden – who replaced the departed Dwayne De
Rosario – who’s left Houston and left a void at attacking midfielder.

Defensive midfielder Ricardo Clark's move to German Bundesliga
side Eintracht Frankfurt could also unsettle the Dynamo's chemistry, especially
if Geoff Cameron has to move into the midfield after a stellar year on the back
line. Will the move weaken Houston’s prized defensive core?

Key Changes:

Players In: Francisco Navas Cobo (Dynamo Academy), Lovel Palmer (Harbout
View, Jamaica), Adrian Serioux (Toronto FC)

Players Out: Stuart Holden (Bolton Wanderers), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht
Frankfurt)

Star Attraction: Brad Davis

Having lost Holden and Clark to Europe, Kinnear will likely hand
the keys of the Dynamo midfield to Davis. Everything suggests the eight-year
league veteran will shine without his former teammates, even if he does shift
from his preferred flank position to the middle, where he occasionally
deputized for Holden.

Davis -- a two-time MLS Cup champion, a Dynamo original and a firm
fan-favorite -- can shoot, pass and hustle with the best in MLS. He finished as
a joint leader in league assists and added five goals in 2009, and now that the
28-year-old has most likely missed his chance to make Bob Bradley's World Cup
roster, Davis will be fully committed to keeping the Dynamo an elite team in
2010.

Unsung Hero: Brian Mullan

Mullan doesn't register big-time stats, so the 31-year-old is
often absent from conversations about national team call-ups or end-of-season
awards. However, the versatile midfielder/forward has been a major contributor
to the franchise. Since joining as a San Jose Earthquakes player in 2003,
Mullan has played in at least 25 games per season, and his teams have never
missed the playoffs. Oh, and he's won three championships. 

Mullan's ability to be a key player when it matters most - and
that often means helping out on defense - was made manifest in last year's
playoffs, when he made a crucial goal-line clearance in the first leg of the
conference semifinal against Seattle Sounders FC. He also set up the
series-winning goal in the second leg.

Ready for Primetime: Geoff Cameron

Sure, Cameron earned a MLS Best XI selection and a call-up to the
U.S. national team camp in 2009, but that doesn't mean he's already
"primetime." Cameron has yet to fulfill his potential, and could
assume either Clark's defensive role or Holden's further up field after a
superb effort on Houston's backline last season.

Whichever move he makes, it'll carry a weight of responsibility.
But there's no reason why the 6-foot-3, third-year player won't make the
position his - and excel there. And if he succeeds, he'll be lauded for
bringing stability to a potentially insecure Dynamo midfield.

Storylines to Watch:

Unlike last season, the Dynamo won't have to contend with fixture
congestion in 2010, since the team failed to progress in the current CONCACAF
Champions League campaign. However, there’s a risk of losing star forward Brian
Ching to World Cup duty this summer. Ching's fitness may also be called into
doubt -- the 31-year-old forward, who has been the club's leading scorer for
the past three seasons, has been rehabbing a knee injury throughout the
offseason.

Houston is stacked in the midfield, with plenty of young players
to compete with veterans Mullan, Davis, Corey Ashe, Richard Mulrooney and Craig
Waibel. Expect a breakout season from Cameron, but also keep an eye on upstarts
Danny Cruz and Mike Chabala, as well as new signing Lovel Palmer. And with all
the talk about the gaps left by Holden and Clark's departures, it's worth
mentioning that each player signed short-term deals that expire with their
respective European clubs around May. Should things not work out for the pair,
and they decide to return to MLS, Houston will have first dibs on them.

What He Said:

"A lot of the big news has been about the players that have
departed -- players that were good for us and good for this league, and they're
not coming back. I still think, though, that we have enough depth in our team
with guys coming back from injuries, and that still makes us one of the better
teams in the league."

-- Head coach Dominic Kinnear

If Everything Goes Right:

The West looks to be a strong conference again -- even state foes
FC Dallas looks like the real deal. But be surprised if the Dynamo miss the
playoffs, or even fails to win the conference -- there's just too much quality
in Houston, from the coaching staff through to veteran goalkeeper Pat Onstad.

If everything goes right for Kinnear's side, the Dynamo won't miss
Holden and Clark, just as it barley missed a beat while replacing De Rosario
the previous year. In an ideal world, Houston's new-look midfield will
immediately gel, Designated Player Luis Ángel Landín will be the player he's
paid to be, and the Dynamo will ease into the postseason. Anything beyond that,
though, is probably icing.