Omar Cummings saved the best for last in his first season with the Houston Dynamo – but not by choice.
After knee injuries kept him out of preseason camp and limited him to just 11 appearances – zero goals and assists – in the regular season, the Jamaican international came up big in the MLS Cup Playoffs. He scored twice against the New York Red Bulls to see the Dynamo past the Supporters’ Shield winners in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
And now finally healthy and going through a full preseason, the question is can Cummings go from playoff hero to a bigger role in 2014 and push his way into head coach Dominic Kinnear’s plans up top?
“It’s almost like a new signing because of what happened last year,” Kinnear told MLSsoccer.com. “You want competition at all spots. It makes everyone better. … He’s scored some good goals and obviously you want him pushing and scoring goals in the preseason because that makes it better for competition.”
Cummings has shown he can be an elite striker in MLS. In 2010, he was part of an MLS championship in Colorado and led the club with 14 goals. His career since has been derailed by injury, forcing him to mostly sit by and watch as the Dynamo navigated an up-and-down 2013.
“It was definitely tough physically and mentally,” Cummings said. “You get to a point where you’re like, ‘Don’t dwell on it too much, don’t think about it too much and just try and come back.’ This year, I’m finally fit and not in a stretch where I’m not in the training room the majority of the time.”
When Cummings did get back on the field he showed flashes of the finishing and speed everyone expected. And with four goals this preseason after adding another against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Wednesday morning, he finally seems to be offering answers rather than posing questions in those areas.
“He does like to sneak in behind the defense; you just have to encourage it,” Kinnear said of Cummings’ pace. “For the most part, we know that’s what we want Omar to do, which is make those runs forward because space may be open behind and that’s what he’s here to do.”
If Cummings is back, the conversation can finally shift to the possibility of him breaking into the starting lineup. Houston has incumbents Will Bruin and Giles Barnes already in the mix, a pair that combined for 17 regular season goals last season. But neither have the burst Cummings has, meaning the Jamaican brings a different dynamic to the group.
The task for Kinnear and the Dynamo is to figure out how best to exploit Cummings’ ability, harnessing the newfound depth and diversity options at forward.
That might means Cummings plays the role of the super sub, something different for a guy who's been used to playing from the opening whistle.
Either way, everyone involved is close to finding out what a healthy Cummings could mean for the Dynamo.
“I’ve known Omar for a while now and you can tell his movements are better and he feels stronger and he’s not lingering on an injury,” said right back Kofi Sarkodie. “An Omar Cummings in good form, that’s as dangerous as it’s going to get. If we can have that from him… I think it’s going to help and make a huge difference for us.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.