Today, the Houston Dynamo announced their biggest international transaction of the year, bringing standout Honduran forward Carlo Costly into the fold. Throughout the process of scouting international players, the Dynamo have been adamant that the club would not bring in a player unless that player met Houston's needs, both on and off the field.
Now that the deal is done, the obvious question is: Does Costly meet those needs?
Let’s look at the obvious issue first. Costly provides Houston with a standout Hispanic presence. It is an issue that is downplayed by clubs in Major League Soccer, but it is a very real concern, and nowhere is that more the case than a city like Houston, with its large Hispanic community. Costly’s Honduras national team helped pack Robertson Stadium for a May friendly against El Salvador, and his play at both the international level and his recent presence at Atlas are enough to make him a name for Hispanic Americans in the area to recognize and get behind.
However, as we have seen time and again in MLS, the allure of a player’s nationality or resume wears off fairly quickly. When it comes down to it, the Dynamo’s new forward is going to have to produce on the field. That is something that Houston has had bad luck with in the past regarding international signings. After all, the memories of Koke and Luis Angel Landin are still fresh in the minds of those in the organization and fans alike.
While you can never be sure of how a player will react, the feel around Costly is different. He does not seem to be a player who is in Houston to rest on his laurels. The 29-year-old has a subdued and workmanlike demeanor that eases concerns conjured by the performances of players like Koke and Landin.
The work ethic will endear him to his coaches and teammates, but scoring goals will earn him a place in the fans' hearts, and that is something Costly can do. Often termed as a poacher, the 6-foot-2 forward can attack both on the ground and in the air and has a reputation for getting in good spots to put the ball in the back of the net. Looking at it, his game seems tailor-made for head coach Dominic Kinnear’s system that is based in large part on service from the wings. Costly has the ability to provide the Dynamo something that only Brian Ching has provided up until now: a consistent threat on goal.
There are concerns that Costly does not have the speed to stretch defenses as a partner to Ching. Houston has been at its best recently with a speed/power combination up top. However, speed is only one part of that equation. The ability to control and be effective with the ball at pace is more important, and Costly has shown the ability on the international level to do just that.
Another concern is that Costly is the rare player who has been criticized for his inability to duplicate his international performance – where he has 18 goals in 48 appearances – on the club level. In Houston he has the chance to dispel those concerns with the benefit of excellent service from the likes of Brad Davis, Colin Clark, and Geoff Cameron. That, coupled with playing alongside a forward in Ching that will draw attention away from him in the box, should provide the Catracho standout with all the opportunity he needs. His ability to take advantage of that opportunity is up to him.
On the surface, Costly’s demeanor, ability to score goals, and fit in Kinnear’s system make this look like an international signing that finally pays off for Houston. While there are concerns, from this viewpoint, he looks to be the type of player that can help the club in its playoff push.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.