Saturday's MLS Cup officially brings the 2013 season to a close, but there is little time for anyone to catch their breath. It is only 93 days until the Dynamo kick off their 2014 campaign against the New England Revolution at BBVA Compass Stadium on March 8.
While the players can take a well-earned break before preseason training starts, you'd be very wrong if you think the club presses the standby button and goes into a kind of winter hibernation. The reverse is true, president Chris Canetti told HoustonDynamo.com this week.
"This is the busiest time of the year for us. Imagine being a wedding planner—the busiest time is in advance of the wedding, getting all the planning done, everything organized, and then you have the event. So this is what we have to do, we have to plan for an entire season," he said.
"This is a really crazy time. I don't think the offseason is long enough for us on the front office side, we have a very difficult time doing everything that needs to be done in a short window which is why it's so busy, especially when you consider that the holidays interrupt it and business generally shuts down whether we like it that way or not."
There are business plans and budgets to produce, ticketing and marketing strategies to work on and sponsors to seek—with the jersey a major priority. Extra elements this year include exploring the possibility of adding an NWSL franchise to Houston and preparing for the Brian Ching testimonial on December 13.
"People are working longer hours now than maybe in the season. You develop a routine and get everything going. This is really when we make everything happen," said Canetti.
It would be neat and tidy to imagine that when one season ends, the next begins, but the reality behind the scenes is more complicated, with plenty of overlap and long-term strategizing.
Thoughts turned to 2014 long before the final whistle blew in Sporting Park on November 23 and brought the curtain down on the Dynamo's MLS campaign. "Even prior to that, for the last several months we've been starting the process of renewing sales and business planning and budgeting," said Canetti.
If there is one small compensation to being knocked out at the stage before MLS Cup, it's that it gives the club two extra weeks to prepare for next year compared with the finalists. Clubs that failed to reach the playoffs saw their seasons end back on the last weekend in October—and those who were eliminated from contention earlier have doubtless been planning for weeks and months before that.
"We probably work harder now that we do during the season when it's routine, you've kind of done it before, practices really don't change too much, the schedule's set," said head coach Dominic Kinnear.
"Now you're still watching film trying to find new players, talking to agents, talking to the league about things, your budget and all the rest of it. So it's more the paperwork side than the on-the-field stuff. It's not something that I really enjoy because I'd rather be out on the field but it's part of the game."
As for on-field preparations: Kinnear and Canetti believe that after coming so close to MLS Cup this year, reshaping the roster is a case of evolution not revolution.
"If you look at the history of teams that kind of stayed the same and were consistent, the results remain consistent. So I think we've had a good run of results here. If it was poor we'd need some changes but I think it's good enough that we give this group another good run next year together," said Kinnear.
As Canetti pointed out, when key players such as Brad Davis, Boniek García, Ricardo Clark and Jermaine Taylor were fit and available the team produced impressive results. "When the majority of the pieces were there I believe our record was 14-5-4 … the perspective you take into account is that when the group was together, wow, we won almost all the time. So there's no reason to blow this up. We need the group to stay together," he said.
Beyond the veteran core, promising young players such as Jason Johnson, Anthony Arena, Servando Carrasco, Warren Creavalle and Alexander López will be hoping to continue their development and grab more playing time in 2014.
Kinnear also gave credit to Eric Brunner. The 27-year-old center back impressed during the postseason when filling in for the injured Taylor. "Given a chance at the end, the games he's had, he's proven he can play and be a starter for us so it's good for the overall shape and depth of the team," he said.
As at any club there are sure to be arrivals and departures. "We're cap challenged like we are every year so you have to make tough decisions sometimes. And 100% of the team will not be back. There are five players whose contractual status is currently up in the air," said Canetti.
"That would be Bobby Boswell and Calen Carr who are both out of contract and have options based on the collective bargaining agreement in terms of doing other things if they wish. Then there's three players whose options we declined, which would be Cam Weaver, Andrew Driver and Mike Chabala. Doesn't mean that the three of them won't come back, but it means they also have options to go other places and it means their contractual status with us is uncertain. So we'll see what happens with those five guys and deal with it as it goes forward."
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian and SI.com.