The Houston Dynamo’s to-do list this preseason is short. At the top of that list, however, is filling the void left in the middle of their backline, and there are two players vying for the job with a familiar connection.
Former Portland Timbers teammates Eric Brunner and David Horst have been reunited in Houston and are competing for the starting center-back spot made available by the departure of Bobby Boswell. Injuries kept the pair from teaming up consistently in Portland, but now they're each hoping to be the one who fills a void in the Dynamo defense.
“They’re the start of the backbone, the spine of your team,” head coach Dominic Kinnear said. “You want strength and good communicators and guys who are good in the air. You don’t want your center backs to be easy to play against, so you want them to be physical.”
Brunner and Horst are friends from their Timbers days and have traits that fit that bill for the Dynamo. With the opener rapidly approaching, they're both vying to play next to incumbent Jermaine Taylor, who Kinnear considers a building block in the back.
Brunner has the size and has shown that he can play above opposing forwards. He is also a known quantity and likely bought himself some favor by coming through for the Dynamo while starting five playoff games in place of the injured Taylor last season.
Horst arrived in Houston via an offseason trade after a broken leg suffered against the Dynamo cut his 2013 season short. Horst has shown no ill-effects coming back from that injury, and his ability to rule the air, along with his booming voice, give Kinnear plenty to work with.
“I don’t see us as competing against each other, I see it as us helping this organization,” Horst said. “Us competing against each other make each other better and help the team.”
Kinnear has not tipped his hand as to which player has an edge right now. However, he did confirm that whoever gets those minutes will likely do so alongside Taylor.
“We made a good run without him last year, but obviously we’re a better team when [Taylor's] good and ready,” Kinnear said. “He has a place in this team.”
The Jamaican returned this week from an injury to his left foot on Wednesday, playing 20 minutes against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. After the game, he said he felt no lingering effects from the injury, but admitted there is some rust to knock off in the final three preseason games left in Charleston.
“Being around them for the last three games is going to be nice and I’m going to try and build a partnership with either of those guys,” Taylor said. “It’ll be nice to play with either one of the two and build a chemistry.”
The only question that remains is with whom that chemistry will be strongest.
“We’re professionals, we’re here to do a job,” Brunner said. “Obviously we all want to play. … We want to show Dom that we want to help the team win. Obviously that’s not our decision, so all we can do is make it a difficult one.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.