It’s not how you start, but how you finish. The Houston Dynamo took that to heart in 2011, bypassing the rebuilding year they were supposed to have and instead claiming their third conference title and an appearance in the MLS Cup final.
Along the way to their fantastic finish, Houston went through some tough times as well, including an 11-game stretch between May and July that saw them win just one game. But the Dynamo were sparked by both key summer acquisitions (Adam Moffat, Carlo Costly and Luiz Camargo) and a shift in the lineup (Geoff Cameron to center back), which saw them go undefeated in nine of their last 10 games – the only loss a 1-0 defeat to the LA Galaxy in the final.
While Houston can lean on their MLS Cup appearance as proof of a great season, they also answered a lot of questions with regard to their lineup going forward. Cameron has found a home at center back and led a dominant late-season defense. Brad Davis had a banner year and the team found a young group of players that could keep the Dynamo on top for years to come.
Best Moment of the Year
The most electric moment of the year came on Aug. 20 when first-year home-grown player Alex Dixon hit a sterling strike in stoppage time to pull out one of the most dramatic victories in franchise history. Dixon cut in on his left and laced a shot to the far post to beat Nick Rimando as the clock expired to give Houston a 3-2 win over Real Salt Lake, sending Dynamo fans, players and coaches into a frenzy.
Worst Moment of the Year
The low point came in a 3-0 loss to Chivas USA on July 23. The Dynamo surrendered a hat trick to Goats forward Justin Braun and mustered little in the way of an attack. There were major questions surrounding the club’s ability to make the playoffs after that July game.
Houston was introduced to the Moffat Rocket when the newcomer showed off his long-range ability on Aug. 14 against his former team, the Portland Timbers. Adam Moffat gathered a deflected set piece and crushed a knuckling 38-yard bomb to the upper 90 for the Dynamo’s first goal of the night. The Scotsman’s strike began a cult following and was a candidate for MLS Goal of the Year.
Tally Hall’s reputation as an elite shot-stopper started in Week 2 in Seattle when the Washington-native made a reaction save on an O’Brian White header. The Sounders bombarded the Dynamo, forcing Hall to make six stops on the evening. His snap reaction on White was a sign of things to come for the first-year starter, who is garnering national team attention.
Simply put, Brad Davis was the engine to the Dynamo’s 2011 season. The MLS MVP runner-up notched 16 assists and four goals, outstanding numbers, but his biggest influence was as a leader. He filled in at captain when Brian Ching went down and was a standard-setter for the Dynamo with regard to work ethic and consistency.
Moffat was a revelation for Houston. After languishing in Portland, he took the bull by the horns with the Dynamo, staking claim to the defensive midfield spot after arriving in July 21. His tough play restored the midfield bite that seemed to leave the club with Ricardo Clark in 2009 and he showed underrated passing and possession ability.
1. Replace Brian Ching: Houston’s leading scorer was taken by Montreal in last month’s Expansion Draft. Coupled with the loss of Carlo Costly, the Dynamo are looking to sign an impact player to go with a steady stable of forwards that includes Will Bruin, Calen Carr and Cam Weaver. Could this be the spot where the Dynamo attempt to strike in the DP market?
2. Solidify right midfielder: Danny Cruz finished the year as the starter in right midfield, but the Dynamo had a number of players see time there. Houston will return a number of options in 2012, including Colin Clark and Je-Vaughn Watson, but that’s not stopping the club from exploring upgrades at the position. Finding a permanent option will add stability to the midfield spot opposite Davis.
3. Find depth in the central midfield: With Cameron moving to the back line permanently, the Dynamo only have two true central midfielders on the roster in Moffat and Luiz Camargo. Finding quality depth for the center midfield pair will be a priority heading into next season.