As the Houston Dynamo trotted onto the field for their first day of preseason training on Monday, there was a decidedly different feel from that of 12 months ago.
As the club enters 2012, words like "stability" and "familiarity" were used to describe the way the Dynamo feel about the current roster and situation, a stark contrast to the feeling of uncertainty that came after the team’s worst-ever season in 2010 and the offseason of upheaval that followed it. It is clear the difference a year, and success, can make.
“There’s a different mentality from last year,” said incumbent goalkeeper Tally Hall. “We have a bunch of guys back and we’re happy to be back together and are comfortable with each other. … There’s some excitement with the way we finished the season and we want to carry that over to this season.”
Houston returns a core group of players including Brad Davis, Bobby Boswell, Geoff Cameron and Hall, among others, from their 2011 MLS Cup runner-up squad. It is a group that is experienced and knows how the organization wants to carry itself.
“We have a good core group and are coming in with guys who’ve been here a while,” said Davis, who led the league in assists last year. “It makes it easier to talk about the way we need to put ourselves out on the field everyday and show what makes us a winning club and organization.”
That core group is combined with 12 fresh faces – a mix of rookies and trialists – as the club is hoping to put the final touches on their roster.
With only those final touches remaining, it is clear the difference in the club’s mission from 2011 as now the solutions outnumber the questions. Which is a good thing because the club knows that with success come increased expectations.
“That’s the one thing this year is that because we did so well last year a lot is expected of us to do it again,” said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear. “I think we have a more balanced team this year than last year. Last year we came into form around July and this year, while I think we need to add a couple of players, we have a good group.”
And while meeting those expectations can mean more pressure, when looking back at 2011, it is easy to understand why the Dynamo are happy to deal with these circumstances.
“We came in off our worst season as a franchise in 2010 and comparing that to last year, where the playoff run was the best three months of soccer I’ve had in my life, it’s different,” Hall said. “I think it makes it a little easier because I’m excited and because I think we’re going to be really good this year.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com