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Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Houston Dynamo

Jan 23, 2013, 12:36 PM EDT

Brad Davis

(Through the week we’ll look at three Major League Soccer clubs per day, considering what they need to accomplish and what questions deserve answers during preseason training camps. Opening day in MLS is March 2.)

For a team that finished in the middle of their conference last season, the Houston Dynamo carry surprisingly few questions into their 2013 campaign.

That’s because they’re not a fifth-place caliber team. Two years in a row, Dominic Kinnear has guided his team to an MLS Cup final, and while Sporting has claimed two conference titles in that time, there’s little doubt which team are currently kings in the East.

Bringing back the same core that clicked during last year’s playoffs, Houston should be expected to better their 2012 regular season finish. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some doubt.

  • Is the defense for real?

Houston lost Geoff Cameron and didn’t miss a beat. They made a change at right back mid-stream and never lost their edge. As with most Kinnear teams, Houston’s defense served as the bedrock for the coach’s approach.

That’s no guarantee everything will unfold the same this spring. Bobby Boswell may have has his best MLS season in 2012. Will that continue into 2013? Will Jermaine Taylor resume the same high level he carried through his time in Cameron’s spot? And how will Kofie Sarkodie respond to his first March as Houston’s first choice right back?

Expect all those questions to come back positive. At not point during last year’s run did the you watch this back four and think “this has to be a fluke.” But sample sizes being what they are, it’s worth watching to make sure our initial perceptions coincide with the long-term reality. Preseason will give us our first hints.

  • Can Rico play a more attacking part?

Ricardo Clark’s return from Germany allowed Kinnear to switch from the 4-4-3 he used through summer to his preferred 4-4-2. With Clark and Adam Moffat in the middle, the Dynamo had a tandem that could both destroy play and clean up the second balls.

This year, however, Ricardo Clark may need to expand his game. Both he and Dominic Kinnear had hoped he’d play a more attacking role when he came into the starting XI, but his presence rarely translated into something going forward.

Conceivably, Houston could be fine if Clark plays the same way he did down the stretch in 2013, but the Dynamo would be much more balanced (and ultimately, dangerous) if they didn’t have to rely solely on Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia. Preseason’s the perfect time for Clark to start taking some chances.

  • How does Houston reach the next level?

Making finals is nice and losing to the Galaxy is understandable, but at some point it’s going to get old. And there’s always going to be a talented team at the end of any championship road.

If Houston’s going to reclaim an MLS crowd, they need something else. Perhaps that’s Clark finding some creativity. Maybe it’s Will Bruin becoming an All-Star. Boniek Garcia may become one of the league’s elite players. Perhaps Tally Hall becomes MLS’s Petr Cech. If so, we may start to see it in preseason.

Any of these things may prove enough to give Houston that one missing quality they need to win (instead of merely compete in) their last game.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: LA Galaxy

  1. wesbadia - Jan 23, 2013 at 1:02 PM

    Last year, I had Houston pegged as a 6th place team; ie, NOT making the playoffs. Looking back, there were, in my opinion, two things that made Houston an MLS Cup team: 1) Finally getting home to the new BBVA Compass Stadium; and 2) Bringing in Boniek-Garcia.

    Their long road stint to start wasn’t as bad as KC’s the year before, but it wasn’t awesome either. But opening BBVA and finishing the season undefeated there was huge in their success both in 2012 and for the future.

    Like you said, Dom’s teams seem to be able to overcome adversity in defense and midfield, so losing some key personnel did little to detract from their performance. Personally, I attribute that to Dom’s resourcefulness in player management. Being able to see who fits in best where is something Dom does extremely well. And that’s what happened in 2012.

    Having a full season with Clark, Boniek-Garcia, Cummings, and other new players is going to be huge, especially at home. If KC can pull of a conference title after doing much the same thing as Houston, do we see Dynamo as #1 in the East this year? I have to think it’s highly likely.

  2. berlintexas - Jan 23, 2013 at 1:10 PM

    Don’t sleep on Giles Barnes. I think he supplants Moffat in the midfield and gives the Dynamo a more dynamic attack going forward while allowing Rico to play a more natural holding role.

  3. charliej11 - Jan 23, 2013 at 2:32 PM

    Don’t bet against Dom.

    • charliej11 - Jan 23, 2013 at 2:33 PM

      ExSounder.

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