The Dynamo ended their Arizona preseason camp with a win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Tuesday, but Owen Coyle was thinking about a number other than the 1-0 scoreline.
While pleased with a victory that saw Houston end their stint in Tucson with two wins and a draw from three matches against MLS opposition, the head coach was also happy with the consistency and depth shown by the roster on a night that saw him use all 24 available players.
The performance despite the heavy rotation gave Coyle encouragement that he has a squad deep enough to cope with the rigors of a long MLS campaign. He used 22 players in each of the first two matches in Tucson—a 3-2 win over the San Jose Earthquakes and a 1-1 tie with the Portland Timbers—as part of his pledge to give everyone on the roster a chance to impress in match scenarios.
“You can train every day but I need to see players in matches to move forward and formulate an idea in terms of what my team will be. I gave people minutes so they feel they’ve got an opportunity to press. I’ve always said it will be a fair fight and that’s the case,” Coyle told HoustonDynamo.com.
“The results are not of paramount importance, though it’s nice to win. The important thing is the ideas we’re implementing, that they come across to the players, and in bits and pieces we’ve seen that. I think there’s still a lot of improvement to come from us but there’s no doubt that the players are getting a grasp of what we’re looking for.
“The work rate, the appetite, has been of a high standard and that augurs well for moving forward because we know we’ve got quality. And we’ve still got players to come into the group—Boniek García, Luis Garrido, Cubo Torres when he joins, Giles Barnes hasn’t played much.”
The trip was Coyle’s first with the team since he succeeded Dominic Kinnear in December and the former Bolton, Burnley and Wigan manager said he was delighted with the organization and the facilities at the home of PDL side FC Tucson.
“It was great—a wonderful week. Got to credit [GM/VP] Matt Jordan, [assistant GM] Nick Kowba, the trip’s been brilliant and all the players and staff have really enjoyed each other’s company. The games have been very good as well and I think we’re steadily improving,” he said.
Coyle viewed the trip as an important opportunity for a much-changed roster to bond off the field as well as work hard on it. The team had a night out last Saturday, and players and staff went out for dinner at a spa resort in a picturesque mountain setting last Thursday.
“Trips like this are great for that. We’ve got a lot of new guys this year, young guys, older guys, new staff. You really learn a lot about guys when you get away and spend basically every second of every day together,” defender David Horst told HoustonDynamo.com.
“These are times when we get to know guys, forge friendships and when the going gets hard in the summer, August, September, when we’re fighting for a playoffs spot, it’s the things that we do now that come out then.”
The Dynamo’s first MLS game of the year is against the Columbus Crew on March 7 at BBVA Compass Stadium (TICKETS). “Emotionally we all wish tomorrow was March 7 but physically we’re only a couple of weeks into preseason, everybody’s still got a bit of fine-tuning to do. As a whole we’re still working on our chemistry and the way we’re going to play,” said Horst.
He said the players are enjoying Coyle’s training style, which puts emphasis on ball skills even this early in preseason when developing fitness is a priority. “We did a lot of things on the ball. Owen’s not the kind of guy who just likes to run us. He likes to incorporate it into what we’re working on. We’ll do drills that force us to run a lot in the drill. He was a player; he’s not just going to run us, it’s going to be structured fitness,” said Horst.
The Dynamo are scheduled to fly back to Houston on Wednesday. After two scrimmages—against the Academy Under-18s on Saturday and the Austin Aztex next Wednesday—the club heads to Charleston for three fixtures in the Carolina Challenge Cup.
Horst is hoping the Dynamo maintain their winning start to the year—not just because he is a fierce competitor, but because he believes that setting a tone and rhythm early can help get the team off to a strong start when points are at stake.
“Every time you step on the field you want to have that winning mentality because that’s what it’s going to take every week of the season,” he said. “The season doesn’t start March 7, it starts now for us: creating the habit of winning now so it’ll carry over into the season."
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.