Saturday’s home game against the Colorado Rapids (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS) is set to be an early test of the Dynamo’s roster depth as Owen Coyle prepares to shuffle his pack to cope with several absentees.
For newcomers like Chandler Hoffman, the weekend could be a chance to show the head coach they merit an extended run-out in the first team. Acquired by Houston at the end of last year in stage two of the re-entry draft, the former LA Galaxy striker made his Dynamo debut on March 7 in the closing seconds of the 1-0 season-opening win over Columbus Crew SC.
The 24-year-old from Alabama went to college at UCLA and started his MLS career with the Philadelphia Union. He spent the past two seasons with the current MLS champions, making eight appearances last year. “It was nice to be back, weird being on the other side of things but good to see some old friends, and picked up the championship ring which was pretty cool, then swapped jerseys with Robbie Keane after the game which was cool,” he said.
With Giles Barnes away on international duty this Saturday, Hoffman is optimistic he will earn more playing time. “I’m hopeful that I’ll be in the starting XI, see how the rest of the week goes but I definitely think this weekend could be a big opportunity for me to put my stamp on the team,” he said.
When Coyle talks about the art of goalscoring, he’s speaking from experience: the 48-year-old enjoyed a long career as a prolific forward in England and Scotland. Naturally, with that resume, Hoffman is eager to learn from him.
“Owen scored a ton of goals as a player so I try and pick up whatever knowledge I can from him. We do a lot of different finishing drills and striker drills so I try to keep an open dialog with him on what I need to improve on and kind of pick his brain for how he scored so many goals and try and implement that into my game,” he said.
Hoffman believes his playing style is a neat fit for the kind of fluid attacking style that Coyle is looking to establish, which relies on clever movement. “That’s always the kind of player that I’ve been, drifting off the center back’s shoulders and using my mental ability to create space, as opposed to physical strength. It kind of suits me and I’m hoping that I get a run out there to show that I can create space and be dangerous in front of goal,” he said.
Coyle knows he will be without four players against the Rapids: Barnes and defender Jermaine Taylor are on international duty with Jamaica, while midfielders Luis Garrido and Boniek García are with Honduras for a two-legged 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup qualifying playoff against French Guiana.
The scenario is further clouded by the possible absences of injury doubts Ricardo Clark, Nathan Sturgis, DaMarcus Beasley and Raúl Rodríguez, leaving Coyle with plenty of pondering to do this week as he considers possible line-ups. “When I was going to my bed last night I probably thought of twelve permutations,” he told reporters at Houston Sports Park on Tuesday after a 1-0 scrimmage win over the NASL reigning champion San Antonio Scorpions.
“Coming off a very good performance and a valuable point against the champions there’s a lot that’s positive going into Saturday’s game but we’re missing a number of players,” he said. “Coming into the league I said there was going to be lots of things I had to learn and deal with and one of them was obviously now that they play on FIFA calendar dates. We’ll focus on what we’ve got, hopefully we’ll have one or two back.”
Jamaica host Venezuela in an exhibition match on Friday and then meet Cuba on Monday. It’s the first call-up for Barnes, a London-born former England youth international who qualifies for the Reggae Boyz through his Jamaican ancestry.
Coyle, born in Scotland and with one cap for Ireland, said he fully respects the lure of international soccer. “I said to the players, I totally understand players representing at the national level and having the opportunity for World Cups and everything that comes with that,” he said.
Defender Kofi Sarkodie is pleased for his teammate. “I think he’s getting into the whole Jamaican mindset! I think he’s excited, it’s an opportunity to hopefully play in the Gold Cup which is a great tournament,” he said. Jamaica qualified for this summer’s Gold Cup as the Caribbean’s top team. The tournament will be held in the U.S. and Canada and one of Jamaica’s group games, against Canada, will take place at BBVA Compass Stadium on July 11.
Sarkodie echoed Hoffman’s belief about Saturday’s match: that every absence is an opening. “It’s going to be a good opportunity nonetheless for the guys that haven’t played to come in, they’re going to have to do a job and that’s what they’re going to do. It’s going to be different for sure but we’re going to make those adjustments and have a good match regardless,” 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.