Boniek García's slick play has become customary for the Houston Dynamo.
With the start of 2014, however, his clever play appears to have a new home in the center of the midfield. Early returns are great, and the move has the potential to show just how high his level of skill on the ball is.
"It’s just get him the ball, get him the ball and let him work his magic,” said left back Corey Ashe. “The guy has a phenomenal touch. Very rarely do you see him lose the ball, and he’s so elusive. He’s been huge for us. He’s been a difference maker, that X-factor that we’ve been looking for.”
García played the full 90 minutes in the center of pitch in a 4-0 win over the New England Revolution in Saturday’s season opener. For García, the move allows him to be more attack-minded, saying he can get “vertical” and play at the goal instead of hugging the touchline and playing facilitator.
Saturday his offensive nature showed as he provided late runs into the box, one of which was rewarded with a Will Bruin pass for his first goal of the season. While the shot was great, the play showed why García can thrive in the center of the pitch.
"In the middle of the pitch there’s not as much time on the ball,” Bruin said. “He’s great technically… so that just brings more emphasis on us going forward and getting forward quicker when he’s in the middle. I’ve just got to get it in his vicinity, and I know his squirmy body will get to it.”
Bruin drove through the middle of the Revs defense between multiple defenders. At the pressure point, Bruin got off a bouncing pass to García. Instead of struggling with it, García's touch was smooth, settling the ball and getting off a volley for the well-taken goal.
The skill comes from equal parts natural talent and hard work, making the transition all the more easy.
Head coach Dominic Kinnear tested the move in preseason, playing with the midfield quartet of Brad Davis, Ricardo Clark, Garcia and the emerging Tony Cascio. With Cascio on the wing, someone had to move to the middle.
García was a natural choice.
“I thought at the time that was the best option we had to put him in there and keep Brad out wide left,” Kinnear said. “Technically we all know he’s a good player and sees the right pass, but he covered a decent amount of ground. That made it easier for everyone else to play as well.”
Having that ability to slip and move in and out makes defending the slight García a conundrum for opponents in the congested middle. It also adds challenges for him in both play and concentration.
"It’s a position of great responsibility,” García said. “Definitely, there’s a lot more physicality. I have to be more assertive and more hard-nosed when it comes to battling for tackles and battling for balls.”
None of those added responsibilities proved a problem in the opener. And his presence, while slight in stature, could loom large as opponents plan for the slippery Honduran.
“I think he’s one of the better players in the league,” Ashe said. “There’s a reason why he’s going to the World Cup.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.