Just before halftime against Sporting Kansas City, Will Bruin produced a familiar scene.
The Houston Dynamo forward flashed to the near post, got his head on a free kick and headed it home. It was his 36th MLS regular-season goal and 42nd in all competitions with the Dynamo.
Getting just his third start this season, Bruin’s 2015-account opener carried some added weight.
Instead of being the regular fixture at the top of Houston’s formation, the fifth-year forward has gone between roles as a starter and substitute. Facing an opportunity to gain more time, Bruin didn’t let it go to waste in helping Houston’s attack open up Sporting in the 4-4 draw.
“We all know the qualities Will Bruin has. We started the season with Will, and it was getting to a situation for him to show his qualities, which he’s done,” head coach Owen Coyle told MLSsoccer.com. “What I do know that in the last couple of weeks he’s looked ever so sharp. He’s looked all that striker sharpness. It’s certainly been there the last couple of weeks. We know when he’s in that form then he’s definitely part of the team, and that’s what we want.”
The quality outing for Bruin, whose 42 goals in all competitions are second most in franchise history, followed up on a successful second-half performance in which he provided a boost to the Dynamo attack against D.C. United as a halftime sub.
With the 6-foot-2 forward in the game, the Dynamo have a different dynamic up top. Bruin’s ability to run off Giles Barnes helps clear space, as well as his propensity to hit the near post to open space and attack the ball when given an opportunity. That, combined with introducing a target presence, provides the Dynamo with an added element.
“When Will’s on it, he can bring anything you need to a team,” Barnes said.
Barnes was the first to greet Bruin after the goal and benefitted from having someone to work off on his way to two goals of his own.
“Credit to him; he was left out of the team the last few games, and he’s worked hard in training, and he does extras every day before training and after training trying to perfect his craft,” Barnes said. “His attitude and his professionalism towards the whole team is a credit to himself.”
Bruin started the first game of the season before Coyle shifted to using five midfielders, leaving Barnes as the lone striker and relegating Bruin to the bench. The increased numbers in the middle helped the Dynamo become stingy in defense, but it's meant Bruin has only started in three of his seven apperances this year.
“It’s definitely frustrating when you’re not in the 11, but you’ve got to use it as motivation to get back into the 11,” Bruin said. “It just makes the time you get on the field that much more important. With [former head coach Dominic Kinnear] in the past, I was playing every game. And I don’t want to say you take it for granted, but when it kind of gets taken away from you, you work that much harder and make the most of it. That’s something I’ve been doing.”
Moving forward, the Dynamo will have to strike a balance if Bruin is going to stay in the lineup in place of a third central midfielder, and Coyle said the defense can’t take a step back with the addition of another forward.
Regardless, with two strong weeks behind him, Bruin is giving Coyle plenty to think about.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.