HOU_102217_Manotas
Wilf Thorne/Houston Dynamo

Manotas season? Dynamo's Colombian striker aims for breakthrough in 2018

Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres’ offseason sale to Liga MX side Pumas UNAM has left a void in Houston Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera’s 4-3-3 formation, and Mauro Manotas aims to be the one to fill it.

Manotas has been waiting for the opportunity to be the Dynamo’s starting forward since he signed with the franchise in 2015, but it won’t just be handed to him, and he knows it. The competition for the starting role will be a tough one and Manotas is ready to put up a fight.

“I’m going to work. I’m going to fight so I can be the one to earn that position,” Manotas told MLSsoccer.com in a phone interview from Tucson, Arizona, where the Dynamo will spend the next two weeks training.

“Obviously, my teammates are going to be fighting for that position because they want to play, too. But it’s going to be a healthy fight, and that’s something that coach has told us.”

What does Manotas need to do to earn the starting No. 9 position? Cabrera says he simply needs to work, score goals and continue attacking this preseason. Manotas adds that his play on the field will speak volumes for how much he wants the starting forward spot.

Manotas’ play has improved every year he’s been in Houston. While he was originally signed in 2015, he only appeared in nine matches and failed to notch a goal that season. In 2016, he logged more minutes, making 22 appearances, but only in the latter half of the season did he leave his mark, scoring six goals in the team’s last eight games.

Last season, the competition was just as fierce, with the arrival of Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto, not to mention the rise of a rejuvenated Torres. But Manotas still managed to play in 33 games, netting 10 goals in the regular season and one in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Heading into his fourth season with La Naranja, Manotas says his previous three years in MLS have made him a more mature person on and off the field. He adds that 2018 is poised to be a big one not just for him personally, but for the Dynamo as well.

Manotas has a set number of goals. The Colombian wants to notch at least 11 goals in the regular season, one more than last season’s tally, but hopes for more, saying 15 or 20 would be ideal. And he knows what he needs to improve on to reach that milestone.

“I want to improve my headers and be calmer and controlled when it comes to shooting,” Manotas said.

“Because last year in the Western Conference finals against Seattle I had several opportunities to score, but because I was desperate to score, I maybe didn’t give it my best shot. So that’s something that I’m working on, is to be a little calmer when shooting [the ball].”

Last season, Manotas was used on the left and right wing as well as the center forward role in Houston’s 4-3-3. But make no mistake, he prefers to play centrally.

“I want to be the center forward and I’m going to work for that. Last year I couldn’t play there [much] because Torres was here, but at the end of the year I practically ended up playing there,” Manotas said.

“I want to play there. I want to be the No. 9. I want to take my team’s penalties and be the one scoring goals. I’m preparing myself to be the No. 9, but if I’m deployed on the wing I have no problem with that.”