The Tweet and Lowdown:
The Dynamo face a few insecurities heading into the 2010 season, but who in Houston is ready for a breakout season?
Setting the Scene:
The Houston Dynamo played five games before winning their first on April 19, but that victory against the Colorado Rapids sent Dominic Kinnear's men on a 10-game unbeaten tear for 26 points. The Los Angeles Galaxy stopped the run -- and later Houston’s season in a bizarre Western Conference championship game.
Kinnear, as expected, built his 2009 team around a solid defensive core, and Houston finished the regular season tied for the league’s best defense. Many pointed to Stuart Holden’s breakout year as the highlight of the Dynamo’s season, but now it’s Holden – who replaced the departed Dwayne De Rosario – who’s left Houston and left a void at attacking midfielder.
Defensive midfielder Ricardo Clark's move to German Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt could also unsettle the Dynamo's chemistry, especially if Geoff Cameron has to move into the midfield after a stellar year on the back line. Will the move weaken Houston’s prized defensive core?
Players In: Francisco Navas Cobo (Dynamo Academy), Lovel Palmer (Harbout View, Jamaica), Adrian Serioux (Toronto FC)
Players Out: Stuart Holden (Bolton Wanderers), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Star Attraction: Brad Davis
Having lost Holden and Clark to Europe, Kinnear will likely hand the keys of the Dynamo midfield to Davis. Everything suggests the eight-year league veteran will shine without his former teammates, even if he does shift from his preferred flank position to the middle, where he occasionally deputized for Holden.
Davis -- a two-time MLS Cup champion, a Dynamo original and a firm fan-favorite -- can shoot, pass and hustle with the best in MLS. He finished as a joint leader in league assists and added five goals in 2009, and now that the 28-year-old has most likely missed his chance to make Bob Bradley's World Cup roster, Davis will be fully committed to keeping the Dynamo an elite team in 2010.
Unsung Hero: Brian Mullan
Mullan doesn't register big-time stats, so the 31-year-old is often absent from conversations about national team call-ups or end-of-season awards. However, the versatile midfielder/forward has been a major contributor to the franchise. Since joining as a San Jose Earthquakes player in 2003, Mullan has played in at least 25 games per season, and his teams have never missed the playoffs. Oh, and he's won three championships.
Mullan's ability to be a key player when it matters most - and that often means helping out on defense - was made manifest in last year's playoffs, when he made a crucial goal-line clearance in the first leg of the conference semifinal against Seattle Sounders FC. He also set up the series-winning goal in the second leg.
Ready for Primetime: Geoff Cameron
Sure, Cameron earned a MLS Best XI selection and a call-up to the U.S. national team camp in 2009, but that doesn't mean he's already "primetime." Cameron has yet to fulfill his potential, and could assume either Clark's defensive role or Holden's further up field after a superb effort on Houston's backline last season.
Whichever move he makes, it'll carry a weight of responsibility. But there's no reason why the 6-foot-3, third-year player won't make the position his - and excel there. And if he succeeds, he'll be lauded for bringing stability to a potentially insecure Dynamo midfield.
Storylines to Watch:
Unlike last season, the Dynamo won't have to contend with fixture congestion in 2010, since the team failed to progress in the current CONCACAF Champions League campaign. However, there’s a risk of losing star forward Brian Ching to World Cup duty this summer. Ching's fitness may also be called into doubt -- the 31-year-old forward, who has been the club's leading scorer for the past three seasons, has been rehabbing a knee injury throughout the offseason.
Houston is stacked in the midfield, with plenty of young players to compete with veterans Mullan, Davis, Corey Ashe, Richard Mulrooney and Craig Waibel. Expect a breakout season from Cameron, but also keep an eye on upstarts Danny Cruz and Mike Chabala, as well as new signing Lovel Palmer. And with all the talk about the gaps left by Holden and Clark's departures, it's worth mentioning that each player signed short-term deals that expire with their respective European clubs around May. Should things not work out for the pair, and they decide to return to MLS, Houston will have first dibs on them.
What He Said:
"A lot of the big news has been about the players that have departed -- players that were good for us and good for this league, and they're not coming back. I still think, though, that we have enough depth in our team with guys coming back from injuries, and that still makes us one of the better teams in the league."
-- Head coach Dominic Kinnear
If Everything Goes Right:
The West looks to be a strong conference again -- even state foes FC Dallas looks like the real deal. But be surprised if the Dynamo miss the playoffs, or even fails to win the conference -- there's just too much quality in Houston, from the coaching staff through to veteran goalkeeper Pat Onstad.
If everything goes right for Kinnear's side, the Dynamo won't miss Holden and Clark, just as it barley missed a beat while replacing De Rosario the previous year. In an ideal world, Houston's new-look midfield will immediately gel, Designated Player Luis Ángel Landín will be the player he's paid to be, and the Dynamo will ease into the postseason. Anything beyond that, though, is probably icing.