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.”