Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Streets of Laredo

As 2008 gave way to 2009, the Houston Dynamo and their fans were faced with many questions: Will a stadium deal get down this year? How can the team replace the offensive contributions of Nate Jaqua and Dwayne De Rosario? Will the Dynamo break down and sign a designated player? Who will back up long-time goalkeeper Pat Onstad? And, will defender Bobby Boswell go to Europe or sign a new contract with the Dynamo? As the Houston Dynamo prepare to report to training camp on Monday February the 2nd, several moves have provided answers to some but not all of these questions.

The Houston Dynamo began firming up their 2009 roster on January 23rd when they signed former Herman Trophy semi-finalist and two-time All American from San Diego State University, Tally Hall. The 23 year old goalkeeper has spent the last two years with Denmark’s Esbjerg fB. Hall was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Galaxy in the 2007 SuperDraft, but their rights have since expired and the Dynamo claimed him as a discovery player.

On Monday January 26th the Dynamo further strengthened their defense for the 2009 season when they signed former MLS Defender of the Year Bobby Boswell to a long term contract. The Dynamo initially picked up Boswell in a post-season 2007 trade deal with D.C. United, where Boswell had fallen out of favor. After a rough start during the 2008 Pan Pacific Cup, Boswell eventually made himself a crucial part of the Dynamo’s back line and of the 48 matches played by the Dynamo in 2008, Boswell started in 43 matches.

With the acquisition of Julius James in the De Rosario trade and the signing of Boswell, the Dynamo traded defender Patrick Ianni to Seattle Sounders FC. Between an inconsistent 2008 season and the fact that Ianni is no longer a Generation Adidas player, the time had come for Ianni and the Dynamo to part ways.

Finally, the signing that has truly captured the attention and imagination of Dynamo fans was broken by Ives Galarcep on Tuesday and made official by the Dynamo in a press conference today – the acquisition of 18 year old forward Felix Garcia from the PDL’s Laredo Heat. For those unfamiliar with the geography of Texas, Laredo is situated on the Rio Grande and is the southern terminus of Interstate 35, making it one of the biggest ports of entry between the United States and Mexico.

The potential of signing this young prospect; who scored the winning penalty kick for the Heat in the 2007 Championship, has played with the USMNT U-20 squad, and has trained at the Dynamo South Texas Academy; has been rumored for weeks here in Houston. Dynamo COO Chris Canetti was a guest on the 1560 Soccer Show here in Houston on January 5th, and when asked about Garcia, he stated that if Garcia made the move from the PDL to the MLS he’d probably sign a Generation Adidas contract and go into a weighted draft where other teams would have a shot at acquiring him as a developmental player, and he played down the prospect of signing him directly from Laredo. It may have been a smoke-screen, but more likely it was a conservative response to a situation that was still be played out, and in the end the Dynamo were able to sign the young striker, with impressive speed and finishing, as a transfer from the Laredo Heat. The icing on the cake, for the Dynamo, is the fact that Garcia has signed a Generation Adidas contract.

The adjective most used to describe Garcia is “raw,” which under the coaching of Dominic Kinnear and John Spencer, could pay dividends for years to come, not just for the Dynamo, but also for the U.S. National Team. As Canetti stated today, “He’s obviously a player with a lot of potential, and we’re looking forward to maximizing that potential. We are going to be very patient in his development and are eager to see him grow as a professional player under the positive training environment that Dominic Kinnear has established.”

The signing of a young, gifted player from the streets of Laredo during a week when the MLS has been presented with the potential of having three of its players move to three big European clubs, could prove to be a fingerpost in the history of the MLS, if it so chooses. While there is a certain attractiveness to signing older, established players who spent incredible years with some of the biggest and most successful clubs in Europe, there is no shame in being a league that develops raw talent and then reaps the benefits of the rewards by transferring developed players to the bigger leagues that have lost interest in developing talent. While this type of attitude has kept teams afloat in Brazil and Argentina, imagine what this approach could do for the MLS, which could take this money and not just pay overhead, but reinvest it to grow the league’s stature and respect around the world.

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