The Dynamo will seek to deliver their usual strong start to the season when the Columbus Crew visit BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS).
A repeat of last year’s stunning MLS curtain-raiser would certainly get the Owen Coyle era off to a dream beginning.
Two goals from Will Bruin, the first after just 64 seconds, and another from Boniek García inside the first half-hour set Houston cruising to a 4-0 win over the New England Revolution twelve months ago. Of course, it’s a long season with plenty of twists and turns, and the Revolution went on to reach MLS Cup while the Dynamo endured the rare disappointment of missing the playoffs.
But it’s always good to get the first three points secured as early as possible and set a positive tone that the team will look to maintain throughout the year. And historically, Houston have a habit of making a strong first impression.
The club’s nine previous MLS opening day matches have brought four wins and three draws and the Dynamo are looking for their fourth straight victory. They beat Chivas USA in 2012, D.C. United in 2013 and the Revolution last year, all without conceding a goal. In home openers the record is even better: five wins, three ties, only one loss, to the Philadelphia Union in 2011.
“It’s that inner drive within each guy, you want to be in that eleven and you want to reward your teammates and yourself with a win,” said Bruin.
“It always helps when you’re at home. All the excitement that builds from preseason, all the hard work you put in and then you get to play at home in front of the fans that are super excited, it’s a very good feeling to go out there, lace up the boots and play against different competition—you know it’s not preseason any more, you’re not playing just 45 minutes here and there, 60 minutes here and there, you’re in for the full 90 and it’s the real deal now.”
Coyle is excited about stepping into the bowl at BBVA Compass Stadium and relishing the sights and sounds of the matchday experience. “I’ll never get tired of saying how magnificent our stadium is and I’m looking forward to getting that crowd and getting that atmosphere which we all savor, which we all love being part of. Ideally you’d want to play in that stadium every day of the week. It’s magnificent. And what we want to do is for the players to do it justice and make sure the fans are leaving with a smile on their face,” the head coach told reporters.
If the Dynamo’s strong preseason, raft of new signings and healthy roster have given Coyle a selection headache, he’s not complaining. “I think it’s always difficult to choose your eleven. I’ll tell you why: because when everybody’s contributing to what you have in terms of training, match time, playing time, then of course it poses problems because you think well, they can all certainly do a job,” he said.
“That’s a far better problem to have than the problem when everybody’s out of sorts and then you think: well, who do I bring in from that? From a coaching perspective that’s the best problem to have, when they’re all firing on all cylinders and then you’ve a dilemma. It will be difficult, there’ll be one or two that will probably feel they’ve done enough to be in that eleven, and I can understand that. But the bottom line is that I have to look to pick the best eleven available, knowing that with our roster and our strength in depth we have game changers that can come on—impact substitutes if needed.”
Embarking on his fifth season with the Dynamo, Bruin believes the team has the tools to compete strongly throughout the year. “We have the pieces at every position, we have the depth at every position. I think this is a team that’s built for the long haul of the season. The MLS season is not a sprint, it’s a marathon and I think the depth we have at every position and the competition there’s going to be to be in the starting eleven week in, week out, is going to make this team much better,” he said.
The 25-year-old, who scored ten times last year, believes that the changes to the coaching staff and roster will make the adrenalin flow even more than usual on Saturday. “New coach, new staff, a lot of things are new so I think everybody’s going to go out and push even harder,” he said.
“Obviously first impressions are huge. We’ve been through that with preseason but it hasn’t been full-on real season games yet, so I think Owen’s really been stressing that every position is a battle. Nobody’s guaranteed a spot and I think everybody’s taken that to heart. There’s no time to put it on cruise control or whatever, you’re battling every day, every minute counts, every time you touch the ball in the game counts.”
Coyle respects the ability of the visitors to East Downtown, and with good reason. Crew SC may have flown under the radar during the winter, with the bulk of the media attention being lavished on Eastern Conference newcomers Orlando City SC and New York City FC, but Gregg Berhalter’s side reached the playoffs last year and were one of the form teams in the second half of the year, winning ten of their final 15 regular-season fixtures.
Columbus added former Houston, Sporting Kansas City and Middlesbrough forward Kei Kamara, who figures to form a dangerous attacking combination with Designated Player Federico Higuain. “They have fantastic players, but equally so do we and that’s why I know it’ll be a very good game,” Coyle 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.