With six forwards on the roster and two places available there is a queue of players hoping to start up front for the Dynamo. But one of them, Omar Cummings, thinks of the battle as more like a co-operation than a competition.
"I wouldn't say it's competition because everyone pushes each other. I think it's a good group and guys push each other to do well and we're happy for guys when they score," he told HoustonDynamo.com ahead of Saturday night's MLS season-opener at home to the New England Revolution (7:30 p.m. CT, TICKETS). "Let's do our best and let the coach make his decision."
The 31-year-old Jamaican was signed from the Colorado Rapids in December, 2012, but injury problems limited him to only 190 regular-season minutes in his first year in Texas. Now he is healthy, ready to go and says his anticipation levels are "almost rookie-like, to be honest. It feels like a fresh start, just to get out there and get a preseason in. It's excitement for the first game. Last year was a different kind of excitement for the season to start—I wasn't involved."
Cummings rebounded from his regular season disappointment to play a vital role in the playoffs, scoring twice. He played four more minutes in the post-season than he did in the regular campaign. While that gave him the reassurance of knowing that he can be a valuable contributor to the side when fit, he said that he has turned the page on 2013 and is itching to claim what would be his first MLS regular season goal in 18 months. "Preseason has gone well but you want to get that first one in the regular season and get it off your back," he said.
Barnes flourished after Cummings' absence prompted a move from midfield to attack at the start of last season. The Englishman told HoustonDynamo.com that his approach is the same regardless of his position.
"Whether I'm playing up front or midfield I want to score goals, I want to create, that's just in my nature. So my mentality hasn't changed," he said. "In preseason we've been attacking, free-flowing, everyone's been in and out of different positions, it's been good. Omar's a good friend of mine so I'm glad that he's actually fit and ready to contribute this year."
Making the net rustle more often is one of the items on Houston's checklist this year. The Dynamo scored 41 goals in 34 regular season matches last term. That ranked eighth out of the ten Eastern Conference teams and was seventeen goals fewer than the New York Red Bulls, who topped the division.
It was seven goals down on the Dynamo's 2012 tally, though the defense was solid: the figure of 41 goals conceded was identical to the previous year and good for joint-third lowest in the East.
Barnes top-scored for the Dynamo with nine strikes in the regular season, one ahead of Will Bruin, who also contributed seven assists. It was the best return of Barnes' career. Naturally, this year he is aiming to improve on it. "I've got some targets; you always want to do better than the year before, so that's all I'll reveal at the moment," he said.
The challenge for the Dynamo in 2013 was not creating shooting opportunities, it was converting them. According to Opta, Houston had 372 shots in total—joint-fourth highest out of all MLS teams—but the second-lowest shooting accuracy rate, just ahead of the Colorado Rapids.
That said, the Dynamo advanced deep into the playoffs, and eventual MLS Cup winners Sporting Kansas City were also near the bottom of that chart. So less precise shooting in comparison with rivals need not be a barrier to success. But it does tend to keep matches close, leaving less room for error and making things more stressful than they might be.
For Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear, prolific goalscoring is a worthy aspiration that is one component of the overall package. "You always want to score more goals at any time in a game or any time in the season. As long as we're competitive in every single game that's the most important thing for me," he said. "If we score a ton of goals, great, but in the end sometimes you have to do a little bit of everything to win and that's what we're going to try and do."