MLSsoccer.com is previewing each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2011 and ending with the league's newest addition, the Montreal Impact. This is part one of two previewing Houston's 2012 season.
Setting the Scene
One game. That is how close the Houston Dynamo came last year to claiming their third MLS Cup title. Unfortunately for them they ran into an historically great LA Galaxy squad that claimed the spoils in a 1-0 win at The Home Depot Center last November.
After starting fast the Dynamo stumbled in the summer heat to a point where a playoff spot was in jeopardy. Compounding their issues was a near season-long dry spell away from the not so comfy confines of Robertson Stadium. On their way to the finale, Houston saw both sides of an MLS season. The push down the stretch overshadowed the struggles the club encountered early in the year.
But as the temperatures cooled Houston's fortunes turned.
Head coach Dominic Kinnear shuffled his roster, adding Adam Moffat, Carlo Costly and Luiz Camargo – all of whom played starter's minutes – and moved Geoff Cameron from central midfield to center back. His tinkering paid off. Led by MLS MVP runner-up Brad Davis, the Dynamo started to ascend up the Eastern Conference standings, dropping just two of their final 13 matches.
While they were one game short of capping their remarkable run with another Cup, the outlook for 2012 is bright. Houston returns with much of their roster intact and are looking to those holdovers to duplicate last year’s success.
In and Out
IN: M Nathan Sturgis (12/29: trade from Toronto); F Colin Rolfe (1/12: SuperDraft); M Warren Creavalle (1/12: SuperDraft); Macoumba Kandji (2/8: trade from Colorado); F Brian Ching (2/16: trade from Montreal); G Erich Marscheider (2/22: waiver wire)
OUT: M Francisco Navas Cobo (11/23: waived); G Evan Newton (11/23: waived); F Carlo Costly (11/24: option declined); D Hunter Freeman (12/12: Re-Entry Stage 2/Colorado); F Jason Garey (12/12: option declined); D Eddie Robinson (1/11: retired); M Danny Cruz (1/20: trade to D.C.)
Star Attraction: Brad Davis
Davis was pure class in 2011 and showed that, especially from a production standpoint, Houston is his team now. The left-footed playmaker notched a league and career high 16 assists last year, leading to a runner-up finish for MLS MVP. Recovered from a right quad tear he suffered in the Eastern Conference final, Davis will once again be counted upon to drive the Houston attack. In short, getting the ball on Davis’ dangerous left foot will be vital to Houston’s success in 2012.
Unsung Hero: Andre Hainault
It is simple; Hainault can do everything asked of him on the backline. Voted as the second most underrated player in 2011 by MLSsoccer.com; the Canadian international draws little attention with his quiet demeanor and consistently good performances – although he did score twice in the 2011 MLS Cup playoffs, raising his profile a bit. But ask his teammates and the defender they call ‘Droid’ is at the top of the list of all-around defenders the club has to offer.
Ready for Primetime: Will Bruin
No one has gotten more praise than Bruin this preseason. After being leaned on heavily early in 2011 with Ching out injured, the Dancing Bear hit a wall, scoring just one goal in the last seven months of the season. Now the sophomore striker is showing a confidence and finishing ability that was not there as a rookie. If he can build on his preseason form, he has the ability and quick shot to be a double-digit goal scorer, something the club has not had since Ching notched 13 in 2008.
Storylines to Watch
1. How will the Dynamo deal with their long road trip to start the season? After six years the Dynamo will open their brand new home on May 12. It should be a great night, but how will the club enter the stadium after a season opening seven-game road stretch?
2. Will the move to bring Brian Ching back pay off? The saga dragged through the offseason, starting with his selection in the Expansion Draft and ending with a trade back to Houston. Ching says 2012 is likely his final season. Will the ever-popular 33-year-old retain his role as the figure in attack for a club with MLS Cup aspirations?
3. How will Houston cope with a return to Champions League play? After a two-year hiatus, the Dynamo are back in the CONCACAF Champions League. Scheduled to kick off competition this summer, the added fixtures could throw a wrench into the club’s success, testing their depth should they embark upon a deep run.
What He Said
“Our outlook’s positive. I look at the run last year and think ‘Can we keep that confidence and mentality for a full year?’The first seven games on the road will be difficult. If we can show we’re a difficult team to play and then come back to our new stadium I think we’re going to be very tough team to beat.”
– Houston midfielder Brad Davis.
If Everything Goes Right
The reigning Eastern Conference champs enter 2012 as one of the favorites and the goal is simple: win one more game and claim their third MLS Cup. Houston will ride what should be one of the league’s best defenses, with standouts at every position - including a potential USMNT regular in Geoff Cameron. And of course the midfield includes one of the best servicemen in the league.
If everything goes right and Houston gets scoring from their frontline and avoids the injury bug, the third title they missed in 2011 could be in their sights.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.
WATCH: Defense the key for Dynamo