As the Houston Dynamo began preparations for the 2018 season earlier this December, the permanent transfer of 2017 Team MVP Juan David Cabezas was a top priority for the club. Therefore the front office immediately got to work on sealing the deal for the 26-year-old Colombian midfielder.
Rightly so, the full acquisition of Cabezas’ rights was the first domino to fall this offseason.
"Juan David was a fundamental player in the project we had in 2017,” said head coach Wilmer Cabrera. “We are fortunate to count with a person who adapted quickly to the city of Houston, the climate and the environment of MLS. He’s a man who arrived, adapted, who already communicates in English and his adaptation was very important.”
Cabezas averaged 4.11 tackles per 90 minutes – the most among all players in with at least 1,800 minutes played this year. He led the team with 102 total tackles, 77 tackles won, and 52 interceptions.
The Cali, Colombia native also featured in every minute of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, including going 120 minutes in the knockout round against Sporting Kansas City. These milestones in the player’s first year with the team go back to that commitment to adapt.
"To adapt as fast as possible,” said Cabezas when asked about his personal expectations days before his MLS debut. “It's a very different soccer from the one in Colombia. It's faster, more physical, more dynamic. Hopefully I am as capable as I was in Colombia and South America, to adapt to the speed, agility and that pertains to American soccer. Hopefully, I can adapt and go from less to more to finish with a good rhythm."
It’s safe to say he found that rhythm.
Unable to play in the first match of the season because of a red card that carried over from his time in Colombia, Cabezas had to wait patiently to be incorporated into the starting XI. Once he did, however, he went on amass the sixth-most minutes on the team, feature in 19 straight starts from April to August and go full ninety in 22 of the Dynamo’s 34 league matches.
Cabezas’ contributions during the 2017 season led to the player being named the team’s Most Valuable Player. His presence in midfield was one of the keys to the Dynamo’s turnaround and his continuity with the team is clearly viewed just as important, as the technical staff now looks towards the 2018 MLS season.
“He showed leadership and showed it all the season,” added Cabrera. “So being able to count on him and that he himself feels he will be important in 2018 helps us not to have to think about that position too much and be able to move in different directions with more mobility."