It is going to be a very different team when the Houston Dynamo take the field against the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday night.
After four games of enjoying consistency and cohesion in their starting lineup that has mostly stayed the same, international duty and injury will give Houston their first true test of the young season.
Boniek Garcia, Brad Davis and Jermaine Taylor are with their respective national teams on World Cup qualifying duty and Will Bruin was listed as questionable on Thursday's injury report with a hamstring strain.
Replacing four starters is not easy for any team, but with absence comes opportunity, and this is the time when the Dynamo's offseason work to build a deep team could pay off.
“I’ve been involved in a few very strong teams over the years. One thing about here is that there’s a lot of quality,” said newcomer Andrew Driver. “I was warned about it, but I didn’t think it would be as competitive as it is. What that brings is hard work because everybody’s fighting for a place in the team.”
Davis and Garcia are two players that make the Dynamo attack go, especially Davis who has gotten off to a good start with two goals in all competitions in 2013. Taylor is part of a first choice back line and Bruin, if he is unavailable, is the lead striker on the squad.
Replacing those players will be a tall task against a Whitecaps squad that has shown to be a real contender early. The additions of Nigel Reo-Coker and Daigo Kobayashi have augmented an already strong lineup headed by speedy second-year forward Darren Mattocks and a solid back four.
The Dynamo’s depth has shown in recent weeks it should be up for the task. The sub corps has shown to be formidable, bringing life into the team late in games. Now players that have produced in sub roles such as Brian Ching, Driver, Warren Creavalle, Eric Brunner and the like will have a chance to show that they can make the same impact from the opening whistle.
“I don’t think there’s much of a drop off,” said Adam Moffat. “You come in and you’re that guy starting so you really want to up your game. You want to give everything you’ve got and I know the guys that come in will do that.”
The depth up top has already been tested. Bruin’s injury and possible exclusion is just the latest in a list of issues the club has endured at forward but things are looking up.
Cam Weaver returned to training Thursday from an ankle injury and Omar Cummings has looked active in training. Cummings has been a full participant over the past two weeks, as he looks to be closing in on his long-awaited Dynamo debut.
“It’s going to be an opportunity for four different guys to step in and perform,” Ching said. “We’re a team that, in the past, have been used to missing guys due to call-ups and injuries and we’ve chugged along just fine. I think a lot of guys are excited about it and are looking forward to it.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DarrellLovell.