Wilf Thorne / Houston Dynamo

Garey hopes to excel up front for Dynamo

In scouting terms, Jason Garey might be labeled a ‘tweener.’ At an even 6 feet tall, he does not have the height commonly associated with target forwards. He has good speed, but not game-changing speed. Yet he was a prolific scorer in college and hopes to recapture that form in his first year in Houston.

“Some guys are faster, some guys are bigger, but I like to think that I have a little bit of all of that,” Garey said. “I’m not the fastest guy, but I’m pretty quick; I’m not the biggest guy, but I’m good-sized. Where I think I can excel is in the box and finishing.”

He did so in college at the University of Maryland, notching back-to-back 20-goal seasons and earning the M.A.C. Hermann Award as the nation’s top player in 2005. He then had a solid rookie season with the Columbus Crew, netting five goals in 25 games (18 starts) for a last-place team.

But when Columbus signed Argentine legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto to play as a withdrawn forward, Garey’s playing time plummeted. The Crew preferred the more physical Alejandro Moreno and Steven Lenhart to play in front of Barros Schelotto, leaving Garey with 22 starts and 10 goals in league play over the next four years.

Enter Houston, and its slightly different take on the 4-4-2 formation.

The Dynamo traded for Garey on December 3, surrendering only a future fourth-round draft pick in the process, and head coach Dominic Kinnear believes he got a steal.

“I always liked him when he played for Columbus,” Kinnear said. “Whether he was starting or coming off the bench, he always showed the same attitude.”

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With Brian Ching’s name written into the lineup in pen whenever healthy, the 26-year-old Garey is battling with Cam Weaver and first-round draft pick Will Bruin for playing time alongside the club’s all-time leading scorer. While Ching spent parts of the last two years with Dominic Oduro, whose speed stretched defenses, the Dynamo won titles with Alejandro Moreno and Nate Jaqua – neither of whom could be compared to Oduro – playing alongside Ching. Not surprisingly, Garey says the bottom line is all that matters.

“When I think of a forward, I think of a guy in the box that scores goals,” Garey said. “He might score with his head, his feet, whatever. He might be fast, he might be slow, but it doesn’t really matter as long as when he’s in the box and he gets the opportunities, he scores.”

Opportunities have been limited so far for Garey just three weeks into the preseason. With two of the four Jamaican trialists playing forward, only four of the six forwards saw time per scrimmage. Ching was designated to sit out the first scrimmage against HBU, with Garey playing midfield. Against FC Dallas, Garey and Bruin did not play. Now that trialists Steven Morrissey and François Swaby are back in Jamaica, this week’s trip to Phoenix should provide equal time for the four forwards currently on the roster.

“Obviously Ching has been here for a long time, and he’s the go-to guy, and Cam’s been here for a while, and then you’ve got a first-round draft pick and me, who’s also been in the league for a little while,” Garey said. “It’s up in the air, so I guess whoever’s playing better is going to get the starts. I’m used to that, and I’m looking forward to getting out there and getting the season started.

Garey said all four forwards have embraced their internal competition for playing time, trying to make each other better.

“We have good little competitions at the end of practice, and all that stuff’s good,” Garey said. “Everyone looks really sharp, and I think it’s going to be a real battle to see who’s going to play up there.”

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That decision rests with Kinnear, who has plenty of time to evaluate his options and pick a winning combination for the March 19 opener and beyond. In Garey he sees a player whose savvy and off-the-ball movement make him more valuable than a player who fits a “target” or “speed” label.

“He’s pretty intelligent and understands the position well,” Kinnear said. “He’s not the tallest, he’s not the fastest, but I think his understanding of being up there definitely helps him a lot.”