Better late than never: Midfielder Andrew Driver makes his way back to Houston to finish what he started
Reports earlier in January had linked him with a possible move to a club in England's second division, but Driver said this week that he is delighted to be back in Texas, where he feels at home—and where he has unfinished business.
"I enjoyed my time here last year, I loved the guys, training and everything, so it's a good situation. It was a long Christmas period and a lot of uncertainty but I'm glad I've got another year to hopefully come in and contribute to the team again," he told reporters at the training ground.
"[Houston] was always my number one, I was really wanting to come back here and I've been lucky enough to come back.
"Last year we had a good season, we've got great guys in the changing rooms. I like the training, I like the coach and it's a good fit for me and something I felt like it was a little bit unfinished, the way we didn't get all the way to the final last year. So hopefully we can build on what we did last year and try to take it another step further."
The England-born, Scotland-raised winger joined from Edinburgh club Hearts last February and went on to make 31 appearances, 21 of them starts, in the MLS regular season and playoffs, contributing three goals and an assist.
He created the ideal first impression by scoring against FC Dallas on his MLS debut with a precise finish and in May grabbed the winner against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
That strike in Carson came amid a run of sixteen successive MLS starts between April and July. But the 26-year-old suffered a right Achilles tendon injury early in a game against the Chicago Fire on July 27 and never truly recaptured his rhythm.
He hurt his right calf against the Columbus Crew on September 4 and only made two more MLS starts, both coming against Sporting Kansas City—in the goalless draw at BBVA Compass Stadium in October and the 2-1 defeat in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Final.
Despite his limited minutes late in the campaign, Driver led the Dynamo in crosses from open play in MLS last year, with 98—far ahead of second-placed Kofi Sarkodie, who sent over 63. Pacy and direct, the left-footed Driver also led the team in dribbles attempted, with 89—seven more than his fellow Brit, Giles Barnes.
Houston now seem to have solid depth and experience on the wing. Tony Cascio has arrived on loan from the Colorado Rapids and, of course, Brad Davis and Boniek García are well-established wide men. Speedy sophomore forward Jason Johnson also spent time on the flanks last year.
Dynamo president Chris Canetti explained why contract negotiations with Driver were not resolved until deep into January: "Players at certain times have options to go look at other things. Andrew was in a situation after December 1st where he was free to go look at other options, he immediately off the bat said he wanted to return to Houston, we said we'd like him back.
"However, based on our original offer he felt it was in his best interest to go look at other things, of course he's got the right to do so. We stayed in touch throughout the process and ultimately at the end we both held true to our word. We wanted him back, he wanted to come back, we just found a way to make it work over time, so there's always a process to these things and sometimes it goes fast, sometimes it takes a while and with him it just went around a little bit longer."
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.