With one week left until opening day, MLSsoccer.com is halfway through previewing each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2012 and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. This is part one of two previewing Houston's 2013 season. You can find Part 1 here.
2012 record: 14-9-11 (53 points); 48 GF / 41 GA (+7 GD)
Depth Chart: 1. Tally Hall, 2. Tyler Deric , 3. Erich Marscheider
Strengths: Hall has used his first two years in Houston to cement himself as one of MLS’ top men in net. The 6-foot-4 goalkeeper morphed from a pure shot-stopper to a cerebral backstop who controls the game and thwarts opposing attacks before shots are taken. A big part of that is Hall’s height and ability to get to balls and command his box. If Hall were to fall, Deric seems to be a carbon copy. Another tall ‘keeper, the Homegrown signing has the ability to command his area and make the same type of saves that Hall does and has shown that he's up to the task in CONCACAF Champions League action.
Weakness: If there is a fly in Hall’s ointment, it is his struggles playing the ball out of the back. Hall can be erratic with distribution on punts and routinely draws the ire of goalkeeping coach Tim Hanley for not connecting on long balls. For a team that will look to run and punish people going forward, Hall’s ability to start the attack with consistent passing will be under the microscope.
Wild card: There is competition at goalkeeper in Houston. It may be hard to believe with Hall’s success, but the Dynamo No. 1 knows that any slip up could mean his spot in the starting XI as Deric is believed to have a bright future.
Depth Chart: RB: 1. Kofi Sarkodie, 2. Warren Creavalle; CB: 1. Bobby Boswell, 2. Jermaine Taylor, 3. Eric Brunner, 4. Warren Creavalle; LB: 1. Corey Ashe, 2. Jermaine Taylor
Strengths: Houston return their MLS Cup final backline intact, plus a year older and wiser. After a encountering an up-and-down regular season, the starting quartet rose to the occasion in the playoffs and put on several sparkling performances. As currently composed, the group has speed on the flanks to deal with teams that want to push the ball and a center pairing that will rule the air. If they start with the same cohesion, this could be the Dynamo defense that many expected the past few seasons from start to finish.
Weakness: Unlike in years past, the Dynamo could struggle with depth in the back. Houston lost do-everything defender Andre Hainault in the offseason to Ross County of the Scottish Premier League. In his place the club acquired out-of-favor defender Brunner from the Portland Timbers to fill the void inside and will bank on the continued maturation of Creavalle if call-ups or injury force changes.
Wild card: Creavalle is a player of whom everyone on the Dynamo staff speaks highly. The second-year man won the hearts of the coaches early last season with his work ethic and attitude but earned valuable minutes with his skill and versatility. If he continues to progress, Houston could be forced to find a way to get him on the field.
Depth Chart: RM: 1. Boniek García, 2. Andrew Driver, 3. Alex Dixon; CM: 1. Ricardo Clark, 2. Adam Moffat, 3. Giles Barnes, 4. Luiz Camargo; LM: 1. Brad Davis, 2. Andrew Driver
Strengths: Few midfields will be able to match Houston’s work ethic in midfield. When working in a 4-4-2, they are expected to employ a midfield that includes the always energetic García on the right and blue-collar pairing of Clark and Moffat in the middle. Finding success playing through that group will be a challenge for every team in MLS. Add in Davis and the midfield four will once again be a group that can spark the attack going forward. Include newcomer Driver, Barnes and Camargo and the Dynamo have depth to burn and options if the club wants to experiment with their lineup.
Weakness: If we are nitpicking – which you have to do – the lack of depth on the wings is a concern. Both García and Davis are candidates for World Cup qualifying duty and strong bets to take part in the Gold Cup this summer. Driver offers a left-footed option, but after that you are likely pulling Barnes out of the middle of the field to fill in on the right or giving Dixon his first real action.
Wild card: Barnes never found his legs in 2012, but a full offseason has done the English midfielder well and he's showing that he could provide the type of creative spark many familiar with his career expect. He is showing the ability to take matters into his own hands while also serving as a facilitator in both the run of play and on set pieces. Barnes could bring the attacking punch the Dynamo covets.
Depth Chart: 1. Will Bruin, 2. Omar Cummings, 3. Brian Ching, 4. Cam Weaver, 5. Jason Johnson
Strengths: Heading into 2012, the worry was that the Dynamo would have to find a consistent scorer. Well not only do they have a 16-goal scorer returning in Bruin, but they added one of MLS’ best speed/scoring combo forwards in Cummings. If the pair can develop chemistry, the Dynamo will have a size and speed combination that can open up space for each other.
Weakness: As good as the pairing of Bruin and Cummings can be, one thing the pair will have to work out is hold-up play. Cummings will be used to stretch defenses and pull attention away from Bruin, but the former is still working to be the strongman that his size suggests he can be. If neither Bruin nor Cummings can fill that target role, that could take away from the Dynamo’s attack. Another issue this season could be health. Cummings is currently rehabbing from a January knee surgery and his status for opening day is up in the air. If he cannot stay healthy, the club will likely call on Weaver to start next to Bruin, which offers a more bruising dynamic.
Wild card: The Dynamo invested in Cummings this offseason and are banking on the fact that striker can return to the 2010 form that helped the Colorado Rapids to the MLS Cup title. If he can be that danger man next to Bruin, the Dynamo attack could be the most productive it's been in the club’s eight-year history.