A new season, a new uniform, and new hope. As the Dynamo prepare for Saturday's MLS curtain-raiser at home to the New England Revolution, captain Brad Davis is convinced that the team can improve on last year's achievements.
"I really am excited about what I know we're capable of doing this year. I think we can make another good run and without a doubt I can say we have a championship-caliber team," he told HoustonDynamo.com on Monday, cocooned in a winter coat at a frigid BBVA Compass Stadium.
Before they line up in front of the crowd on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. CT, TICKETS), the players were on parade high above the field as they showed off the redesigned secondary kit in the President's Club lounge in front of an invited audience of Forever Orange Club members.
The timing was auspicious: a hundred days since the Dynamo's 2013 season ended in an even-colder Kansas City, while Tuesday marks a hundred days before the start of Brazil's sure-to-be sunny World Cup, which could feature Davis and Boniek García, and perhaps more of their teammates.
Aged 32, Davis fits into the "veteran" category. This is his thirteenth MLS preseason and, as a Dynamo original, his ninth in Houston. He has seen more new dawns than most players, but there was still a strong sense of excitement and optimism as he discussed the side's prospects.
The crux of his argument: this is a talented roster with experienced players near their peak and youngsters poised to blossom. And they've learned from both the successes and failures of last season. Personnel-wise, the squad is little-changed from last year, but Davis thinks it is smarter and sharper.
"I without a doubt think we have a stronger squad this year. The core group of our guys is obviously coming back and the younger guys that got a lot of minutes for the first time last year really had a chance to grow, get into those difficult positions and I feel like they really gained a lot of confidence being put into those positions and realizing we came out on top together, realizing what it takes to win in this league, realizing what it takes for this group to win games and really buying into the system that we have," he said.
"So I think without a doubt we've grown this year as a team before we've even stepped on the field, to be honest. Once preseason came along it definitely proved that. I can see guys came in playing with honestly a lot of confidence, guys came in fit, with the right mentalities—obviously working hard in the offseason to make a point of coming in ready to go right off the bat. You know they're ready to come out here and give everything they've got."
In come defender David Horst, attacking midfielder Tony Cascio and the SuperDraft selections: defender AJ Cochran, forward Mark Sherrod and goalkeeper Michael Lisch. Forward Omar Cummings, who missed almost all of last year but had a dramatic impact in the playoffs, is fit. Midfielders Servando Carrasco and Alex López are preparing for their first full season in orange and Brian Ownby is hoping to break into the first team after a successful loan last year with the USL Pro side Richmond Kickers.
All the senior players who won honors for on-field performance at last December's Dynamo Awards are back: Tally Hall, Ricardo Clark, Kofi Sarkodie, Andrew Driver, Warren Creavalle and Giles Barnes. And the statistics suggest that if García can feature more often (he started only 21 regular-season games last year) then the team will prosper.
Club president Chris Canetti identified three intertwined targets: stay healthy, which should lead to a better regular season record, giving the Dynamo the best possible chance to produce their usual postseason excellence. Last season, Dominic Kinnear's team only secured their playoff spot on the last day and finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, one place behind this Saturday's visitors.
New England beat Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium last year, so a different result this weekend would be an immediate chance to show that in the week the team launched its new look, the improvements are far more than cosmetic.
"We feel we have a great core of a team that has the opportunity to do something special," said Canetti. "We feel like we're on the doorstep to something."