Wilf Thorne / Houston Dynamo

Freeman, Sarkodie offer new look defense

Two high-profile offseason acquisitions, Hunter Freeman and Kofi Sarkodie, are poised to give the Houston Dynamo defense a new look in 2011. The duo’s attacking acumen and ability to cover ground defensively add a much-needed athletic element to a rebuilding Dynamo back line. Their arrival has created a stiff competition for playing time at fullback heading into the regular season.

Freeman returns to MLS after a two-year stint with IK Start in Norway, where the seventh overall pick in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft was a starter at right back. Adapting to a new a club and system, Freeman is excited about the opportunity to play in a system that affords him the freedom to combine with his teammates and go forward.

“I’m getting use to how the team plays, coming into a 4-4-2 from a 4-3-3,” Freeman said from training this week. “Now I’m getting comfortable about knowing when to get forward and when the other guys are going forward.”

Coincidentally, Freeman’s main competition for the right back spot is Sarkodie, this year’s seventh overall pick. Sarkodie’s physical skills are impressive, and he’s shown glimpses of being able to provide a speed element the Dynamo lacked on defense last year. The rookie’s quick progression has him in the mix for a starting spot on a team that historically has not relied on young players.

Despite the high expectations, the 19-year-old University of Akron (at right) product understands he is far from a finished product.

“I’m working on understanding the speed of play in MLS and the tactical awareness, along with keeping my first touch close to my body and playing the next ball quick,” Sarkodie said. “I feel like I’m a part of the back line unit and that I understand what the team wants to do back there.”

The newcomer’s emergence has made the versatility of the group – including 2010 holdovers Andrew Hainault and Mike Chabala – a valuable asset for head coach Dominic Kinnear, who has stressed the importance of having options this preseason. Hainault has performed well in the preseason playing all four defensive positions, and Freeman has experience playing left back in MLS. The group’s versatility makes it easier for the Dynamo to put their best defensive unit on the field.

“As an athlete, you always want competition and having a guy pushing you keeps you on your toes,” Freeman said. “I’ve played left back before, and at the end of the day I want to be on the field, so I’ll play wherever I have to so I can help the club.”

Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.