Entering the 14th campaign of his professional career, Brad Davis is used to seeing fresh faces on the field when preseason training begins. This time the man directing the sessions is a new arrival as well, adding to the anticipation as the 2015 MLS season draws closer.
“There’s definitely a buzz. Owen’s come in here with some different ideas, some different mentalities,” the Dynamo captain told the media on Monday after the first training session under new head coach Owen Coyle.
Several hundred fans came to Houston Sports Park in perfect weather to see the Scot put the players through their paces for the first time. He succeeded Dominic Kinnear last December.
“Sometimes change can be a good thing. It sets a bit of excitement through the group. I know the guys within the locker room are extremely excited,” said Davis, who trained despite having a wisdom tooth removed last week.
“I think you know that the group that has been here has always put the work in and has been a very tight group. We’re willing to do whatever it takes or whatever’s asked of us. Without a doubt there’s a buzz, there’s an excitement,” he said.
With a large number of ins and outs but the veteran core of the team intact, Davis stressed that one focus will be on preserving the unity and spirit that has been the hallmark of past Dynamo sides.
“This is probably the biggest turnover we’ve had,” he said. “It’s [vital to be] a group, having the trust of your teammates. There’s nothing better than going out and putting in loads and loads of work and looking at the guy next to you and being able to pat him on the back and saying ‘you know what, we did this together’.”
Coyle echoed that message. “We have very talented players … but our strength won’t be those individuals, our strength will be as a group. And when we bring that, collectively I’m convinced we can stand toe to toe [with the best in MLS],” he said.
As part of Coyle’s tactical approach, he said the field at BBVA Compass Stadium will be widened by three yards to measure 115 by 73 yards. “Different coaches have different philosophies; it doesn’t make it right or wrong, it makes it comfortable for what they believe in moving the game forward. I believe in passing and moving the ball. We’re widening the pitch by a few yards because we want to pass and move the ball,” he said.
Striker Will Bruin said he enjoyed Coyle’s first session, which was prefaced by a team meeting. “It’s been great, I had a great first impression with him and I think he’s done a great job and I think in the locker room the guys were all getting along really well so I think it’s going to be a good year,” he told reporters.
“He’s telling each player, ‘go be yourself, express yourself on the field’. He’s not worried about guys making mistakes, he says go show me what you can do as opposed to what you can’t do; don’t be afraid to mess something up.”
Among the new players is goalkeeper Joe Willis, who was acquired from D.C. United in a trade last month. He said he is excited to work under Coyle, who previously enjoyed managerial success in the English Premier League. “I’m a big EPL fan. I’ve seen Owen at Bolton and Burnley. When I heard he was coming on I was pretty stoked about it,” the 26-year-old told HoustonDynamo.com.
“I’m pretty excited about joining the Dynamo and the direction that this club’s going in. First day of training’s been great, the weather’s been beautiful, got a little fitness in and got some touches on the ball again, so it’s exciting, it’s been great.”
Reflecting on how much work the club has undertaken to enhance the roster and make front-office additions in the 94 days since the Dynamo’s 2014 ended with a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Fire, club president Chris Canetti said he is “extremely excited about everything that we’ve accomplished this offseason.”
The Dynamo’s first preseason game comes on Wednesday, February 4 in Tucson, Arizona, against the San Jose Earthquakes. Their 2015 MLS journey kicks off with a home game against the Columbus Crew at BBVA Compass Stadium on March 7 (7.30 p.m. CT; TICKETS).
Canetti said he is confident that the team will quickly be competitive, having retained its key players and added strength in depth — and with prolific Mexican striker “Cubo” Torres to arrive in the summer after completing his loan spell at C.D. Guadalajara.
“There’s a good list of core players here that when they were together for the most part last year and healthy, we were winners. So we lacked some depth, we knew we were missing some key pieces, but the idea was, we need to win. And we need to win because we have high standards, number one, we’ve got a great tradition of winning, but as we grow and try to develop as a club we know that our fanbase expects us to win,” said Canetti.
“When you look at all the things that Owen’s bringing to the table with the new, fresh ideas and the leadership and the culture he’s going to create around the club, and you mix it in with the players that we’ve got and the players that we’ve signed, we feel great about things.”
Davis agrees. “I believe we have a group here that can put something special together,” he said.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.