To those that know him best these days— his teammates and coaches on the Houston Dynamo — Will Bruin is the Dancing Bear.
The nickname is less a reference to his last name and more to the 6-foot-2, 195-pound rookie striker's combination of grace and physicality. After recording the first goal of his hat trick against D.C. United on April 29, Bruin’s celebration let the rest of the league in on the team’s running joke.
“We were doing this finishing drill where Dom [Kinnear, Dynamo head coach] chips it up and you had to chest it down and hit it one-time,” said Bruin about the origin of the increasingly popular nickname that inspired a promotional YouTube video. “When I went to chest it, my arms were flailing, and Dom yelled, ‘You look like some kind of dancing bear.’"
Before the following game, against D.C. on April 29, Bruin promised his teammates that they'd see the Dancing Bear if he scored — which he did, three times. Unfortunately for Bruin, though, the Dancing Bear has been in hibernation for a month.
After recording the league’s first hat trick of the season, taking his tally to four on the year while winning MLS Player of the Week in round 7, Bruin has gone seven games without a goal. During that span the Dynamo were winless in May (0-3-3), surrendering late leads against Colorado on May 4 and New York on May 21, before dropping Saturday’s contest at San Jose. During these tougher times, Bruin says it's important to stay focused.
“Obviously it’s frustrating throwing away three points, but after games Dom tells us he watched the film and that we played well,” said Bruin, who drew a first-half penalty against New York. “He tells us every day that we’re a good team. We’re right there, we just need to get our mojo back and build on that.”
Bruin, who was taken with the 11th overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft as a junior out of Indiana University, was not expected to play such a prominent role so soon. The team already has former U.S. international Brian Ching up front, as well as Cam Weaver, an American who spent three years in the Norwegian first division. In April, Houston signed 28-year-old Spanish forward Koke from Greek club Aris Thessaloniki, potentially thrusting Bruin further down in the pecking order.
But Ching has made just one start due to injury, and Koke, who left the club last week after just two starts, struggled to adapt to MLS.
Mike Levitt's Rookie of the Year Rankings
1. Perry Kitchen
The 19-year-old has solidified his role in the heart of a surging D.C. United defense that hasn’t lost in its last five. He recored his first MLS goal in the 3-2 win at Portland on May 29.
2. Will Bruin
|Though he hasn’t scored in a month, Bruin has started all but one of Houston’s matches and they still sit fourth in the East. With Brian Ching back in training, the time is now for Bruin.|
3. Stephen McCarthy
New England Revolution
|New England may be on a three-game losing streak and have already lost a conference-leading six times, but the UNC grad has solidified his place in the Revs midfield along internationals Shalrie Joseph and Benny Feilhaber.|
Enter the Dancing Bear.
“Sometimes opportunities come around through good play and injuries, [but] his came around from both,” Kinnear said. “I don’t think that [Koke leaving] really affects him. He was playing really well even before Koke got here. If he’s playing well, he deserves to play, and then he’s responsible to help the team win."
“My only surprise was that hat trick so early,” Kinnear added. “But give him credit: He always seems to get one to three chances a game down to his movement."
According to Weaver, Bruin's biggest obstacle is maintaining his body during the brutal Texas summer. Only twice so far has Bruin — who hails from St. Louis — played the full 90 minutes.
“Just the other day we were talking about getting ice baths after training now that the heat’s coming,” Weaver said as the temperature in Houston begins to hit three digits. “He hasn’t been one to do that in the past, but now with the heat, and with quite a few games under his belt … he’s starting to learn it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Bruin accepts getting used to life in MLS has been a transition, but he still isn't used to those ice baths.
“I hate icing; never been big on it,” Bruin said. “I don’t like sitting around. But Dom told me to take one. It sucks for the first four minutes, but you’re refreshed afterwards.”