The Houston Dynamo don’t have a single player with six goals scored all year. And yet their forward corps may be the best of the entire postseason field.
In the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park, Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear started out with ex-U.S. World Cup forward Brian Ching and six-year MLS veteran Calen Carr. The Dynamo finished the match with Rookie of the Year candidate Will Bruin and Honduran international Carlo Costly.
And that’s not to mention little-used Jason Garey, who has played nearly 100 career matches in MLS, and the injured Cam Weaver, sidelined by hip surgery. Not too shabby. An embarrassment of riches, some might say.
“Honestly, it’s the first time that I’ve felt pressure for a starting spot on this team,” Ching told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday afternoon. “We have guys that are capable of starting on our team and on different teams. And that pushes us and makes it so every practice is important and every game is important. I think it’s a good factor and part of the reason why we’ve been successful in the past 10 games.”
The roles each player has are distinct. Carr’s speed allows Kinnear to stretch opposing back lines. While Bruin is next in line for speed to get behind defenders, his strength is also a main characteristic. Ching and Costly are similar back-to-goal players who can hold up the ball and make good decisions in possession.
Who Kinnear winds up starting is a factor of multiple considerations: health, match-ups, schedule congestion, set-piece tactics and game management. For example, Kinnear revealed that his insertion of Costly for Ching in the final 20 minutes of Sunday night’s first leg was made for three chief reasons: To relieve the Philadelphia pressure by having him hold the ball up top and maintain possession, to help on defense with his aerial abilities and to save Ching’s energies for the second leg.
“We knew we had Sunday and Thursday matches, and Brian is such an important player for us,” Kinnear told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “In order to get the most out of him, we couldn’t kill him in the first game.”
Having enough gas left in the tank is critical for Houston’s forwards because of the work that Kinnear demands from them.
“It’s your first line of defense,” Kinnear said. “People coach differently. I think when the ball turns over, the forwards have to be your first line of defense and make sure they’re in the right position to pick the ball up again.”
In the month of October alone, Kinnear has used three different starting forward combinations. His selections for the starting XI in Thursday night’s second leg will reveal what type of match the Houston head coach expects to play out. Will Carr come in with his speed when the game opens up? Could the Costly-Ching combo resurface?
"We’ve got a good group," Carr said on Tuesday. "Everyone is pushing each other to get better, and there's a good rapport among the guys. ... I’m enjoying all the partnerships, and I think we’ve got a good thing going."