Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Supremacy Restored - the 2009 Houston Dynamo

While the 2009 MLS Season does not start until March 19, 2009, but, with apologies to the Pan-Pacific Championship which starts tonight, the Houston Dynamo will be the first MLS team to play a meaningful match when they host Atalante on Wednesday February 24, 2009 at 9:00 p.m. cst in the Quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. As the only MLS squad left in the CCL, the pressure is on the Dynamo to win this two match tie with this tough FMF squad from Cancun. Since that match is only week away, it seems now is a good time to preview of the 2009 Houston Dynamo season.

After winning the 2006 and 2007 MLS Cups, the Houston Dynamo entered the 2008 MLS Playoffs as the top seed in the Western Conference and considered a favorite to make to the 2008 MLS Cup. But first the Dynamo had to get past a surging Red Bull New York. Things looked promising for the Dynamo when the managed to walk away from the turf of The Meadowlands with a 1-1 draw against the Eastern upstarts. When the Dynamo took the pitch at Robertson Stadium on November 9th, they were greeted by over 30,000 Dynamo fans, but the Dynamo misfired all match and with a 3-nil win, the Red Bull advanced and ultimately found themselves playing and losing to the Columbus Crew in the 2008 MLS Cup.

But as Lou Holtz once said “Remember the good Lord put eyes in the front of your head, rather then the back, so you can see where you’re going rather then where you’ve been.”

The big changes for the Houston Dynamo as they enter the 2009 season are the loss of Nate Jaqua to Seattle Sounders FC in the expansion draft and the trade of Dwayne DeRosario to Toronto FC. With these departures, the Dynamo entered the silly season looking towards the young, talented Stuart Holden to fill the hole left by Dwayne DeRosario and a need to create offensive depth. In this trade, the Dynamo were able to remove close to $325,000.00 from their payroll, add defender Julius James’ less then $50,000.00 contract, and then avoid the $75,000.00 hit from Patrick Ianni, who is no longer a Generation Adidas player, by trading him to Seattle.

But before the Dynamo could deal with their offensive needs, there was the issue of Bobby Boswell. The 2006 MLS Defender of the Year came to the Dynamo in December 2007 and, after a rough Pan-Pacific Cup and early 2008 MLS Season, soon found himself a critical component of the Dynamo’s back line and an integral part of one of the toughest defenses in the MLS. With the closure of the 2008 season, Boswell was out of contract and testing the waters of Europe where he found himself on trial with the Turkcell Super League side Antalyaspor. Bureaucratic red tape issues blocked Boswell from signing with Antalyaspor, so he returned to the MLS where he signed a four year contract that will keep him with the Dynamo. Between the return of Boswell and the acquisition of Julius James in the DeRosario trade, the Dynamo were in the position to send Patrick Ianni to Seattle, and clear up the salary space as discussed above. Finally, the Dynamo shored up their defense when they signed goalkeeper Tally Hall, who spent the last couple years at Danish side Esbjerg fB, to serve as Pat Onstad’s backup.

In the 2008 MLS SuperDraft, the Dynamo scored a coup by obtaining Geoff Cameron who, while classified as a midfielder, has been called on to be a utility player for the Dynamo who saw action at almost every position except goalkeeper. The Dynamo may have struck MLS SuperDraft gold once again when the managed to draft midfielder/forward Daniel Cruz in the third round. The fact that Cruz was the last Generation Adidas player on the board is a bonus for the Dynamo. Meanwhile, in the 4th round of the Draft, the Dynamo took a flyer on Marcus Tracy despite the fact that the Hermann Trophy winner is headed to Aalborg BK in the Danish Superliga. Should Tracy’s stint at AaB fail within the next two years, the Dynamo will have his MLS rights (and hope that he doesn’t turn out to be like a certain Tracy who plays for another team here in Houston).

Finally, the Dynamo acquired the young, talented Felix Garcia from the PDL’s Laredo Heat. At 18 years, Garcia has been an important player for the Heat and has spent some time with the USMNT’s youth squads. To put icing on the cake for the Dynamo, he is a Generation Adidas player. While the Dynamo started their pre-season camp on February 2, Garcia has not appeared in Houston, choosing to earn his high school diploma before embarking on his MLS career. While Garcia should be applauded for wrapping up his education, the delay to his Dynamo start is troubling, but under the coaching of Dominic Kinnear and John Spencer, Garcia is likely to flourish, and hopefully be the Rosetta Stone for the future of the MLS – signing the under appreciated talent from the streets of Laredo, Escondido, McAllen, Nogales, Las Cruces, Rio Grande City, Calexico, and Eagle Pass.

With Garcia’s current absence that will last until at least June, the Dynamo find themselves in the position of needing some more offensive tools. While Brian Ching remains as the core of the Dynamo offensive prowess, it remains to be seen who will serve as his compliment up front. Will it be Kai Kamara? Erik Ustruck? Corey Ashe? Or Brian Mullan who has once again been labeled as a forward, not a midfielder, by the Dynamo. Or, might it be Joseph Ngwenya, who might soon be out of contract at Antalyaspor.

The Dynamo’s first 2009 MLS match will be at home on March 21 as the host Columbus Crew. This year, the Dynamo will have more Spring home matches and less fixture congestion since their involvement in the CCL will preclude them from playing in SuperLiga. This year it appears that the Dynamo will have a few less matches at home during the high heat of Houston’s hot, humid summers (and with any luck Houston will be spared from hurricanes this year).

It is possible that the Dynamo will have another slow start to the season as the reconstruct an aggressive offense, but with the likes of Kamara, Ching, Holden, Cameron, and Mullan, The Dynamo might actually earn some crucial early points this season.

While there is still some work to do at the Dynamo, the presence of MLS experience and talented youth, mixed with the coaching tandem of Kinnear and Spencer, means that the Dynamo will once again be a strong force in the MLS Western Conference and strong favorite for making it to the MLS Playoffs and the 2009 MLS Cup.

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