Plenty happened around the Houston Dynamo this offseason after the club reached its sixth conference final in eight seasons. On December 13, the Brian Ching Testimonial Match brought 34 players and coaches to BBVA Compass Stadium—a collection of some of the biggest names in MLS, U.S. Soccer and Dynamo history. The event was a great success: Ching scored five goals in his final game at the stadium he helped open and the event raised $130,000 for The House that Ching Built and Houston Habitat for Humanity.
The previous day, the club announced the launch of the Houston Dash, the first expansion club in the NWSL, who will begin play on April 12 with an inaugural match against the Portland Thorns, the reigning league champions.
With big news off the field, Dominic Kinnear and his staff worked to construct the roster for the 2014 season. It was clear a rebuild was unnecessary—the core of the team has led the Dynamo to two MLS Cup Final appearances and the 2013 Eastern Conference Championship in the last three seasons. Still, the Dynamo were able to solidify the roster with additions through trade, loan and the MLS SuperDraft.
In our countdown of 14 things to look forward to in 2014, we begin the Dynamo newcomers, who will try and lead the club back to the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons.
The first move came just ten days after the MLS Cup Final, when the club acquired veteran center back David Horst in a trade with the Portland Timbers. The Pine Grove, Penn. native adds a new element to the Dynamo back line: size. Horst is 6-foot-4 and weighs 210 pounds and has been very active attacking set pieces this preseason. His past two seasons have been marred by injury but he appears to be on his way back after a healthy preseason. A hip surgery slowed his start to the 2012 campaign before a devastating right leg fracture against the Dynamo last April ended his 2013 season after just two games.
Horst, a six-year MLS veteran, has played in all eight preseason games and figures to provide strong competition to a suddenly deep group of center backs. Despite the departure of veteran Bobby Boswell to D.C. United, the Dynamo enter 2014 with five natural center backs: Anthony Arena, Eric Brunner, AJ Cochran, Jermaine Taylor and Horst.
The Dynamo added three players to their preseason squad through the MLS SuperDraft. With their first selection – the No. 16 pick overall – the club selected Cochran, the 2013 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year at the University of Wisconsin. The coaching staff compared the 6-foot-3 center back to Dynamo legend Eddie Robinson, with similarities in tenacity and aerial prowess. Cochran is a Generation adidas product and will have time to develop as he learns from his partners at center back, including Taylor, who has 72 caps with the Jamaica national team, and Brunner and Horst, who each have six years of MLS experience. Moreover, Cochran can learn from Arena, a second-year center back who experienced the transition from college to MLS last year.
In the second round, Houston selected forward Mark Sherrod out of the University of Memphis. The Tennessee native scored 42 goals in four seasons with the Tigers, including 12 in 2012. On the day of the draft, Kinnear said, “We loved Mark’s work rate and he has good size. He is good in the air and he is brave. He was a lone forward at the combine and he held the ball up well, fought for everything and showed a great attitude."
Sherrod is still with the club and part of the squad for its final preseason trip to Charleston, S.C. He will have three games to make a final impression upon Kinnear and the staff. If he is signed, he will add depth to a forward group that includes Giles Barnes, Will Bruin, Omar Cummings and Jason Johnson. The Dynamo selected goalkeeper Michael Lisch in the fourth and final round of the draft, a product of 2014 NCAA national semifinalist University of New Mexico. Lisch was spotted by goalkeepers coach Tim Hanley at the InfoSport Combine and is competing for the third goalkeeper spot behind Tally Hall and Tyler Deric.
Five days after the draft, the Dynamo made history, becoming the first MLS club to utilize the Intraleague loan mechanism implemented in 2012 when it acquired midfielder Tony Cascio on loan from the Colorado Rapids. The 23-year-old was the No. 14 selection in the 2012 draft and had a big rookie season, making 29 appearances and totaling three goals and three assists. Competition in the midfield reduced Cascio’s playing time in 2013, but the upcoming season promises to be a new chance for Cascio on loan with the Dynamo. He is the first player in league history to be loaned within the league.
At the time of the loan, Kinnear said “I watched him in college and his first two years with Colorado and I enjoy the way he approaches the game. He is not afraid to take on players and he has good versatility. I think when he has the ball at his feet he is not afraid to try and be productive, whether it be an assist or a goal. With what we have coming up this year, we think he is going to be a great addition to the team.”
Cascio has impressed this preseason, scoring four goals in eight games, including a crafty back-heel goal in Wednesday’s win over Pittsburgh. Like Horst, he will compete for playing time in an area of the roster with depth. Cascio joins Brad Davis, Andrew Driver, Boniek García and Brian Ownby as wide midfielders on the club, with Johnson occasionally playing on the flank as well. 2014 is a World Cup year, and depth will be paramount in midfield. Davis (United States) and Garcia (Honduras) both have a chance to make the final squad for the World Cup in June, leaving additional opportunities for playing time.
In all, the new players appear to be quality additions to the roster heading into the season. Over the 34-game season, opportunities will be available across the field. With 14 days left before the March 8 season opener against the New England Revolution, depth seems to be an asset the Dynamo can rely upon this season.