Building a team isn’t an easy process. Just ask all the expansion sides that have joined MLS in recent years.
You can also ask Houston Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear the same question. Not that he had to build a team from scratch – after all, he took over the team when it moved from San Jose to Houston in 2006 and won back-to-back MLS Cups. But the last year-and-a-half has not exactly been peaches and cream for Kinnear.
Injuries, players who came in and did not work out (see Luis Ángel Landín), and especially the departures of midfielders Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden really hurt the Dynamo, who finished 9-15-6 and failed to make the 2010 MLS Cup playoffs, the first time that happened since the team moved to Houston.
Kinnear took the failure to heart.
“I think that the hardest part for us in the last couple of years [was that] in 2009 we came ever so close to making it to the final, and the following year, with the departures of Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden, it was a big gap to fill,” Kinnear said in a press conference on Thursday. “Not making the playoffs was a huge blow to the locker room and to me, personally, because I pride myself in having this team be successful and be a contender every year.”
The head coach went to work on rebuilding his squad, picking up players like forward Will Bruin in the SuperDraft, getting players like Luiz Camargo and Carlo Costly on loans, trading for others like Adam Moffat, and signing a couple more to strengthen their squad. In all, only 10 players from the 2010 team remained.
The end result? The Dynamo are back in MLS Cup.
It was a slow and challenging process made much harder by the addition of the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps in MLS this year.
"They’ve added a couple of teams that makes the journey to the playoffs a little bit harder, and then you have to bring in new players," said Kinnear. "How will the new players come in and how will they affect and impact the team? I think every year is a different challenge, so the biggest challenge this year was just getting back to the playoffs, because it was unknown territory. We had a great honeymoon period during the season, and during the middle of the season it was dismal. But then in the end a couple of new signings and some people coming back to health have given us new life and put us where we are.”
For veteran forward Brian Ching, his coach does not get enough kudos for what he has done to turn the Dynamo around in such a short period of time.
“I don’t think Dom gets enough credit for the amount of changes this team has been through,” said Ching. “If you look at the final in ‘07 and you look at the final this year, I don’t think we’ll have a single player that played in the ‘07 final. You look at how a lot of teams in this league come in and struggle – expansion teams – a lot of times, and that’s because they’re creating whole new teams, and I think that’s something Dom’s had to do over the past year-and-a-half. … I think it’s pretty impressive that we’re back here in a final, especially after the amount of turnover that we’ve had in the past two years.”
If the Dynamo win the MLS Cup on Sunday night, it'll be because they had a master builder leading the way.