It's been more than a month since last season's top scorer was seen in orange. Will Bruin is back on Saturday to give head coach Dominic Kinnear another option in attack as the Dynamo look to overcome the Columbus Crew at BBVA Compass Stadium (8 p.m. CT; TICKETS).
Bruin was away on Gold Cup duty with the U.S. national team for so long that his return almost feels like a new signing. As he showed off his winners' medal at training this week, the 23-year-old's thoughts were already turning to how he can help the Dynamo lift MLS Cup at the end of the season.
"It's like a new start for me, that's the way I look at it now," he said. "Before I left I don't think we had a full squad, we'd been battling a lot of injuries, a lot of guys had been gone with national team duty. So I think coming up this weekend we're going to have our full squad available for selection. Hopefully guys stay healthy this week and we're going to turn some things around."
Forwards Omar Cummings and Brian Ching missed last Saturday's 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire through injury. But Cam Weaver started in attack alongside Giles Barnes and scored, while promising youngster Jason Johnson came off the bench as a late substitute.
The result meant that the Dynamo slipped to sixth in the Eastern Conference standings, below the New England Revolution on the "goals scored" tiebreaker. With plenty of fixtures left, Bruin is confident Houston will rise back into the playoff places by repeating their usual late-season surge.
"The last two years I've been here, we've got in at the end and made some runs. You always want to be higher up in the standings, you never want to be dropping but I think we'll fix it, score some goals and get some wins," he said.
"We still have  games left. But that being said, you never want to take any game for granted. So you go for three points in every game and I think once we get one or two rolling I think we can make up pretty good ground."
Assistant coach Steve Ralston echoes that view. "We know where we're at but we feel like we still have a couple of games in hand. The most important thing is we pick up the points in those games. This weekend's important, it's a team not far behind us that we can separate ourselves from and hopefully continue moving forward," he said.
Bruin found the net 16 times last year. He has not scored in his past seven Dynamo games, though he's gone close on numerous occasions. The striker's month with the national team could boost his club form, according to Bobby Boswell.
"He's been playing at a higher level and I think you'll see it in his finishing, things like that. We welcomed him back with open arms, it's good to have him back, he's a good player," the defender said.
"The level there, the time and space, is a lot sharper and faster. I feel like he'll come back here and feel like it's a little slower-paced," said Ralston, who won 36 U.S. caps.
Bruin said that in training sessions, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann stressed hard work and simplicity. "They pretty much give you freedom to do your own thing, they really stress just play simple, keep the ball, one or two touches, move it around, change the point of attack. Pretty basic stuff, not over-analyzed," he said.
"Winning one-on-one battles, Jurgen really stressed that: one-on-one battles across every position in the field. I think our team had some good depth, and it's just the fact that we wanted it more, we were willing to do the extra stuff like the extra 20-yard runs. It shows that hard work does pay off because it was a long month, a lot of training sessions, a lot of games, and to be able to be rewarded with the trophy was awesome."
Bruin knows that with Klinsmann's attention to detail, he will need to impress with the Dynamo on a regular basis if he is to achieve his dream of being selected for the World Cup finals. The path to Brazil goes through Columbus, Philadelphia, Montreal – all the Dynamo's MLS opponents.
"He's going to be watching everything ... he finds everything out, he knows how guys are doing and it's more than just scoring goals. Ultimately that's what you get critiqued on but it's about how you fit in with the team, how you are as a team player as opposed to just scoring goals," said Bruin.
"Everybody's dream is to play in the World Cup for your country ... you've got to earn your time on the field, every minute you get you've got to take advantage of it. It just gives me more motivation to try and get up there."
Starting Saturday, as he bids to emulate Weaver and Barnes, who scored in the BBVA Compass Dynamo Charities Cup win over Stoke City last week. "The more goals the better," said Bruin. "It's good that they both got one and now it's my turn."
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian and SI.com.