Kinnear has hands full picking Saturday's lineup
Dominic Kinnear has the kind of headache no coach wants to cure ahead of Saturday's game against the San Jose Earthquakes - the challenge of picking eleven starters from a wide range of options.
The international-week absentees are headed back to Texas and their understudies gave promising auditions last Saturday, giving Kinnear plenty to ponder before the clash with 2012 Supporters' Shield winners at BBVA Compass Stadium.
"It's a great thing to have, it's something that we plan for - to have a good squad of players to create these problems. When everyone's healthy it makes our team better and makes my job a little more difficult," said Kinnear.
For the head coach, the concept of a fixed first-choice line-up is a fallacy, even for a club as stable as the Dynamo. Assessing form and fitness requires judgment calls close to kick-off and a roster is in a permanent state of flux. The notion of players as "starters" or "back-ups" is too simplistic: everyone with a squad number is a potential difference-maker.
"You never really have a solid, settled unit because there's always injuries, suspensions or call-ups. So you can't say 'this is my XI' because rarely does it ever work out that way. You have to go with whatever you feel is your best XI on the day," he said.
"We have a good squad of players and this guy could be starting that day, but ... you can't plan for it because your Plan B's always your best option because it's always the more realistic one."
Pre-match chatter was that Houston might be vulnerable without that international trio. In the end, beating tricky opponents despite the absentees created the opposite impression, underlining the roster's strength in depth and the side's ability to tough out results at home no matter how the pack is shuffled.
"We were happy with the win on Saturday, especially because we had some guys out, some important key pieces out and the guys filled in admirably and got the job done," Saturday's captain Bobby Boswell told HoustonDynamo.com. "For me that's the sign of a good team, your depth and your ability to handle adversity in terms of different lineups.
"All the teams that I've ever been on that were really, really good teams were deep teams. Teams where there was competition. What better way to create competition than to have guys playing in important games and doing well and getting results?" added the center back.
"So that way guys know if they don't go out and perform they could potentially find themselves on the bench and that brings the best out of everyone both on the bench and on the field. That game showed that there are guys who can get the job done when our main guys are out."
Davis was not involved in the U.S. win over Costa Rica last Friday in a Colorado blizzard. But he came off the bench in the 71st minute on Tuesday night in Azteca Stadium to join former Dynamo player Geoff Cameron on the field as Jurgen Klinsmann's men secured a superb goalless draw with Mexico.
Elsewhere in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, Taylor played the full 90 minutes as Jamaica tied 1-1 with Panama then lost 2-0 to Costa Rica. It was a similar story for Garcia: he spent every minute on the pitch as Honduras secured an impressive 2-2 draw with Mexico then surprisingly lost 2-0 away to Panama.
VIDEO: Creavalle discusses first MLS goal
Subbing for Davis on the left wing against Vancouver, Andrew Driver impressed with a busy performance in his first Dynamo start. Second-year player Warren Creavalle was lively on the right flank and bundled in a close-range winner. And despite the Whitecaps' pace and movement up front, experienced former Portland Timbers defender Eric Brunner was a calm presence on his Dynamo debut.
"The guy's played in big games before, he's played in the Scottish Cup Final," said Kinnear of Driver. "Eric's played in the league for quite a good number of years and Warren whenever he steps on the field always does something good. So there was no concern about the guys who were playing. Fitness-wise they were fine and I knew they weren't going to be overawed by the occasion at all. All three guys I thought played well and it was expected."
Another first-timer, Omar Cummings, only saw a minute's action as a late substitute. But it was an important milestone for the Jamaican forward, who is still working his way back to full fitness after knee surgery in January. Now Calen Carr is the only long-term absentee as the forward continues his rehabilitation from the ACL injury he suffered during last year's MLS Cup final.
Cummings should soon be pushing for a start, though the versatile Giles Barnes has impressed as a support striker operating just behind Will Bruin and the former Derby County playmaker headed in the equalizer against Vancouver for his first MLS goal.
Kinnear stresses the importance of respect and unity as players wait their turn.
"The guys are supportive of each other, we ask them for that and that's kind of expected no matter who's playing," he said. "Obviously everybody wants to play and obviously I make the decisions but if you're not playing, support your teammate, and when given the chance vice versa."
Kofi Sarkodie is a perfect example of patience paying off. The 22-year-old had a stretch of fifteen MLS games in a row as an unused substitute last season. Then he broke into the lineup in September, seized his chance and is entrenched at right back.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian as well as SI.com.