Kinnear, coaches embark on scouting trips

Brazil, Colombia, Ghana, Caribbean among destinations

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Frequent flier accounts for the Dynamo coaching staff are seeing
plenty of action this month, as the organization steps up its effort to find
talent for the 2011 season. Trips are scheduled to several different
continents, with more in the works, and that’s in addition to a heavy slate of
college scouting. There’s work to be done.

Dominic Kinnear heads to Brazil
Monday night, while assistants Wade Barrett and Steve Ralston head to Colombia later
this week. Goalkeepers coach Tim Hanley will be keeping an eye on college
talent stateside. The remainder of the fall includes major trips to Martinique
and Ghana,
the ACC Tournament, and the NCAA College Cup. It is a busy itinerary, one
designed to give the coaching staff more options when deciding which players to
bring into preseason next year.

“I think with expansion, there’s increased importance for us
to look outside the United
States,” Kinnear said. “We have to make sure
we take the opportunities that are put in front of us and see as many players
as possible.”

In the past, with less roster turnover than is anticipated
this year and with fewer total roster slots, the Dynamo coaches have focused
their time on scouting the college ranks, recruiting established MLS or
international players, and maybe going to one international tournament – such
as the Caribbean Cup or Copa Chivas. This year, the Dynamo have multiple trips,
usually assisted by agents who can point coaches in the direction of particular
games that are worth their while.

“We work with agents, usually ones we’ve worked with in the
past, who help us set up itineraries where there are lots of senior games to be
seen,” Kinnear said. “We watch the first and second division and also reserve
games where sometimes players will be invited in who are free of contract,
since that makes sense for us.”

Coaches and scouts not only have to identify talented
players, but they have to try to gauge players’ ability to mesh with potential
Dynamo teammates. Andrew Hainault and Lovel Palmer are two examples of Houston players who spent
time training with the club before being signed.

“I think it’s always advantageous to see how they do in our
environment,” Kinnear said. “Lovel is maybe the best example of that. He was
highly recommended, but we wanted to see how he mixed with the guys and handled
the competition. It’s one thing if you’re picking a guy who’s played over 200
games for Chelsea,
but if there’s a touch of the unknown, it’s best to see players with your own
two eyes.”

Kinnear and his staff will see plenty of games over the next
two months and are even bringing in about 20 players – mostly South and Central
American – for a four-day player combine in Houston in mid-November. Comparing players from all these different environments –
college soccer, a training combine, overseas games – may be the biggest
wildcard of the task facing Kinnear and his technical staff.

“That’s the most difficult part,” Kinnear said. “You don’t
know how they’ll compare until you find out first-hand. Guys from the draft
this year – Danny Mwanga, Tim Ream, Tony Chani – at the combine looked very
good, but you don’t know that they’re going to be good professionals.”

For all players being considered, their potential adjustment
to Major League Soccer and, in some cases to the United States, is also a concern.

 “Whether they’re in
college or overseas, they may stand out, but how will they handle the rigors of
a physical, enduring season like MLS?” Kinnear said. “You pick players on
quality and athletic ability, and then you take a chance on seeing if they can
handle it.”

With plenty of uncertainty heading into these trips, one
thing Kinnear is sure of is what he’s looking for:

“I look for good touch,” Kinnear said. “I want a guy that
can play. He can be an athlete all you want, but if he can’t play, it’s not
going to work. You need to be a good soccer player first.”