With three starters sidelined by injury and a fourth who was forced out of Sunday’s match early, Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear has been forced to use his bench more than usual in the MLS postseason.
Whereas in past year’s, the depth of the squad in November may have been a concern for Kinnear, because of the return of the MLS Reserve League and the Dynamo’s participation in the CONCACAF Champions League, the Houston head coach is able to turn to a battle-tested bench at a moment’s notice.
“Champions League is a big thing for us and the Reserve League is as well,” Kinnear said after Tuesday’s training session. “When guys get a chance to play, they are not just playing for 15 minutes. They are 90 minutes fit.”
Regular starters Calen Carr, Jermaine Taylor and Ricardo Clark were all ruled out for last Sunday's match. Adam Moffat left the game early after a collision with United defender Robbie Russell. All four starters were replaced by players who not only had experience in MLS play, but had featured in both the Champions League and Reserve League for the Dynamo.
“I think the Reserve League and Champions League rounds out the depth of this squad to the point where we have a lot of starters here,” Kinnear said.
One such player who has used the additional competitions wisely is sophomore defender Kofi Sarkodie. The right back out of the University of Akron started four Reserve League games and three Champions League matches and parlayed his performances into regular season minutes.
“A lot of it was in practice, doing all I could to stay focused,” Sarkodie said of the early portion of the season. “Getting the start against FAS in Champions League and getting the assist was huge for me. It kind of snowballed me into the lineup and I started to see more playing time.”
Since the August 22 match against FAS, Sarkodie has locked down the right back position for Kinnear, starting the final seven regular season games and all four playoff games.
Although the 21-year-old defender is only in the second year of his pro career, the former collegiate All-American is able to look back on his prior success at Akron as a guide to preparing for Sunday’s second leg against D.C. United, quite possibly the most important match of his young professional career.
“At any level, a championship is a championship," he said. “When you are in college and you are getting ready to play in the semifinals or final match it’s the biggest stage. Now that you are a professional and you are playing in a semifinal or final match, it’s again the biggest stage.
“There are a lot of similarities in terms of the preparation and mindset for both the college playoffs and now as a professional. I’m just trying to maintain my focus and take it one game at a time.”