How good are you, Will Bruin? This is pretty much it for Bruin, who looked like he was set to become one of the league's best center forwards after the 2012 season but is now kind of an afterthought in the MLS striker hierarchy. He made undeniable progress both in finding scoring opportunities and in creating chances last year, but if he can't hit for 12-15 goals (or more), that puts a ceiling on what the Dynamo can do.
Backline boss: Bobby Boswell is gone, off to D.C., and with him goes most of the organizational impetus in the Houston back four. One of Jermaine Taylor, David Horst or Eric Brunner is going to have to step up and become the vocal/locker room leader of the group. And, you know, play good soccer.
The right overlap: Corey Ashe has been one of the best attacking left backs in the league for years, though not so much in a "whip in a cross on the run" way as in a "overload with numbers and let Brad Davis cut inside." Kofi Sarkodie is more traditional, and simply superb at hitting those on-the-run crosses. And last year they were both very, very good at timing their surges forward to avoid leaving the field open behind them. They'll have to be even better this year.
Star Attraction: Boniek García
García ticks every box in what you'd want from a wide midfielder who's not precisely a winger. He gives you verticality both on and off the ball since he's fast, and tricky off the dribble; he can whip in a cross; he can cut inside and make a play; he tracks back (very, very smartly) defensively.
But mostly, he cuts inside in the final third and suddely is a second – or third or fourth if Houston are really going good – playmaker. He forces defenders to step to him immediately and then burns them with either small combination play or simply on the blow by. He's really good.
Expect Boniek to start – probably out wide, but maybe in central midfield as he has been this preseason – and for the Dynamo to be in trouble when he's not available. They were just 3-5-5 when he didn't start last season, and 11-6-4 when he did. Yes, that points-per-game pace would have been enough to win the Supporters' Shield.
Few players in the league are more valuable.
Probable Formation: 4-4-1-1
Major Acquisition: Omar Cummings
I'm cheating here, because they actually got Cummings last season. But he barely played, notching just 190 regular-season minutes because of injury before bagging two goals in 194 playoff minutes. He looked like the Omar of old.
In addition to the chance for endless references to The Wire, Cummings gives the Dynamo something they lacked once since-departed Calen Carr tore his ACL in the 2012 MLS Cup: speed and verticality. And it's not just "in theory" speed and verticality – it's functional speed and verticality. Omar will blaze past most backlines off the ball and then have the smarts and skill to do something good when his teammates find him.
I think he's a better fit next to Bruin than Giles Barnes, who's done some good things but tends to make the field smaller than it already is (don't get me started). And if the goal is to keep Barnes out there at all costs ... I mean, I can't be the only one who'd like to see a diamond midfield out of this team? It'd be a nice throwback to the glory days of 2006 and '07, and is worth a look at the very least.
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What He Said
“They’re the start of the backbone, the spine of your team. 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.”
Fantasy Pick: David Horst ($5.5m / selected by 3.8 percent of teams) – It's not quite clear whether Horst or Brunner will get the start alongside Taylor at center back, but if it is Horst, he'll be one of the cheapest players at his position in MLS. The Dynamo have two winnable matches at home to start the season so this is definitely a situation worth keeping your eye on.
Players to watch: Tony Cascio, Omar Cummings, Ricardo Clark
The Dynamo have been known as a "defense first" team for years, and I think that might change in 2014. Honestly, it might have to, because the center-back rotation is, on paper, problematic.
Horst and Brunner are both big and useful, but injury prone and slow on the turn. Taylor has had his moments, but you'd struggle to make a case for him being in the top quarter of MLS central defenders. And AJ Cochran is a rookie who's going to play like one more often than not.
That in turn puts a lot of pressure on the central midfield, which – to be fair – they're designed to handle assuming Warren Creavalle can go from Day 1 (he's still in recovery mode and hasn't played yet this preseason) alongside the indefatigueable Rico Clark. But neither guy is a great long-range distributor, and if they're pinned closer to the backline than they were last year then suddenly they become a pretty predictable team moving forward.
But ... Boniek, Davis, Barnes, Cummings, Sarkodie and Ashe on the overlap, and – hopefully for Dynamo fans – Bruin wearing his shooting boots. I'm also giving some obligatory UConn dap to Tony Cascio, who's been scorching in preseason.
This team is built to score. Expect them to rev the throttle all the way to their usual spot in the playoffs.