After a decade working under the same head coach, Brad Davis says he did not know exactly what to expect when Owen Coyle took charge in the winter.
Now, with the Dynamo captain ready to lead the team into a new era when they kick off their tenth MLS season at home to the Columbus Crew on Saturday (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS), he’s sure what the club has in Coyle: a manager with the skills, energy and determination to inspire a roster that’s hungry to continue Houston’s tradition of success.
After the buzz created by the Scot’s appointment in December, and a series of impressive preseason results, the first true test for the Coyle regime comes on Saturday with the Crew’s visit to BBVA Compass Stadium.
Having worked with Coyle since the start of preseason training in January, Davis is confident that the former Bolton, Burnley and Wigan manager is fostering conditions that will help a revamped squad thrive in a year that sees the Dynamo return to the challenging Western Conference.
“He’s come in and created an environment that everybody’s extremely comfortable with. I think he’s been extremely positive with us,” Davis told reporters during Tuesday’s media day at BBVA Compass Stadium which saw him model the new primary uniform along with 2014 team MVP Giles Barnes and new signings Leonel Miranda, Raúl Rodríguez and Zach Steinberger.
“With the change that happened, me personally, I was with Dom [Kinnear] for ten years and you never know what’s going to happen. For me, I’m extremely pleased with the situation. I think [president Chris Canetti and general manager/vice-president Matt Jordan] worked extremely diligently in the offseason to try and put pieces of the puzzle together and I think they’ve done a very good job,” the midfielder said.
“I think everybody’s buying in to what Owen wants. It’s still a little bit of a process but the guys they’ve brought in are not just very good soccer players, they’re great people. [Morale in the] locker room is a very key piece to having a successful team and I think we have those pieces in place.”
Davis said that while Coyle is supportive and friendly, he leaves the players in no doubt that he insists on high standards and demands a winning mentality once the first whistle blows. “He’s extremely vocal from the sideline, he’s extremely intense—when you step across the white line it’s kind of like all of us, you turn into different people, and coaches do the exact same thing. I think he’s going to be a coach that’s going to get the best out of us so I’m looking forward to what he can do,” he said.
Houston won five, drew one and lost two of their eight preseason matches and secured the 2015 Carolina Challenge Cup last Saturday with a 3-0 victory over MLS newcomers Orlando City SC in Charleston.
“We’ve had a good preseason, we understand that, playing against a number of MLS teams—but that was preparation,” Coyle told reporters. “Now it starts for real and that’s what we’ve got to build on. But we have a good group, very hard-working, very conscientious and talented and when we bring that together we feel they’re a group that can compete … we feel that we can stand toe-to-toe [with anyone] and win games.”
Canetti told an audience of media and season ticket members that it has been a whirlwind offseason since the team’s last match of 2014. “When you think of the things that have happened in 99 days it’s quite remarkable,” he said.
As well as Jordan’s arrival to oversee soccer operations, three new coaches joined to work under Coyle and with a roster featuring eleven new signings. There’s also a new television deal with ROOT SPORTS, with a Spanish-language broadcast partner in the pipeline, and a new twist on a familiar slogan: “Forever Orange, Forever One.”
Canetti said the team will also inaugurate a Legends Plaza at BBVA Compass Stadium that will be “a mini-version of a Dynamo Hall of Fame," with inductions of the first all-time greats planned for later this year.
“It’s been thrilling for me to see this group come together. There’s a wonderful energy around this team right now,” said Jordan. And it’ll be unleashed in East Downtown on Saturday as Davis and his teammates bid to get the Dynamo’s tenth year, and Coyle’s first, off to the perfect start.
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.