Owen Coyle’s first year as an MLS head coach went about as well as most observers expected. Though eager to learn the ropes of a quirky league, the Scotsman nevertheless found navigating the season to be a difficult task.
The Dynamo came up short of the playoffs by a considerable nine-point margin, in part because they simply could not find a way to pick up points on the road. Houston won just twice all year away from BBVA Compass Stadium, a number only outdone by the woeful, and winless away, Chicago Fire.
A lot of change came in the offseason. The club said goodbye to longtime captain Brad Davis, who was shipped to Sporting via trade. The club grabbed a pair of players from Philadelphia, Cristian Maidana and Andrew Wenger. Coyle must now reshape his team into something recognizably competent: one thing the club lacked in 2015 was identity.
The Big Question
How does swapping Davis for Maidana change the Dynamo? In part because of his longevity, Brad Davis was the face of the Dynamo franchise. But the winger also made a name in MLS and became the heart of the Houston team because of his brilliant left foot. At the height of his powers, Davis used his spectacular service to set up teammates in truly gaudy numbers. Davis wasn’t the entire Houston attack, especially after the team added Boniek Garcia and Giles Barnes, but right up to the very end he was still central to what the club could do in the opposition half.
Now Cristian Maidana will be thrust into the fray and asked to create the bulk of the Dynamo’s chances from a different spot on the field. Boniek Garcia’s age has caught up with him, leaving most of the work to the newly-acquired Argentine. Maidana had 15 assists for a poor Philadelphia team last year; given a player or two who can finish, he should be able to match or better that number in Texas.
In order for Maidana to be successful in his role as Houston’s creative force, someone will have to put away the chances he creates. While Houston has a host of forwards, we’ll pick out Will Bruin as the key man among them in part because his former maddening inconsistency has given way to two straight years of double-digit goals and it seems as though he might finally tip over into the league’s goal scoring elite. Even with a double-digit goal return in two straight campaigns, Bruin has a way of missing gilt-edged chances for multiple-game stretches that kill his team and limit his numbers; along with a solid campaign from Giles Barnes, Houston needs Bruin to find his clinical touch in front of goal once and for all.
At his best, Bruin is a fringe U.S. international, a big, strong, athletic forward who can bring the ball down and is strong on the turn. At his worst, he’s a nightmare of easy missed chances and frustrating mistakes. If Owen Coyle is going to buck the foreign manager trend and get the Dynamo the playoffs in 2016, he’ll need Bruin at his best all year long.
From The Dugout
Expectations are rising in year two of the Owen Coyle era, with Houston making significant adjustments to their roster as they seek to catch up to the pace in a cut-throat Western Conference. “We made a couple of moves with [Cristian] Maidana and [Andrew] Wenger,” explained Coyle. “We wanted to add some real pace, which Wenger brings.
“Maidana's one of the best playmakers in the league, his assists [total] speaks for itself,” enthused Coyle. “So that shows you we want to be passing and moving the ball, and being a bigger goal threat. We think we're going to be a very competitive team. A team I would hope is also pleasing on the eye, and exciting going forward.
“We're never going to have the wealth of some of the major clubs in MLS. We understand that. But we can still have a very good team in our own environment and that's what we aim to do. We showed it last year on a one-off basis – when you look through the teams on a one-off basis, we took care of them all. The top teams, the Portlands, the Columbuses, we've won games against them. What we've got to do is do it consistently. And that I think is the key to being successful in MLS.”
From The Locker Room
Part of the reason that the Houston Dynamo missed the playoffs in 2015, according to striker Giles Barnes, is that he tried too hard to get on the field when still recovering from injury. “I should have probably pulled myself out,” the Jamaican reflects. “They weren’t seeing the best of me. It was added travel and exhaustion on the body that I wasn’t used to as well. It was also a learning curve for me.”
Now, however, Barnes is ready to come back strong in 2016 under the direction of coach Owen Coyle, who had his own season of adjustment to the squad last year. “He dealt with it great,” enthuses Barnes. “He’s a great coach and an even better man. Obviously, it’s different. It takes a while for any coach to adapt.”
The mission is clear in Houston – take the team back to the MLS Cup final. “It’s up to us as a unit to take the franchise to the championship,” insists Barnes.
Barnes has faith that new acquisition Argentine midfielder Cristian Maidana is on a verge of a breakout season for the Dynamo. “Maidana is hungry for success,” says Barnes. “He’ll be looking to establish himself as a top player in the league.”
This Is Home
- BBVA COMPASS STADIUM
- CAPACITY: 22,039
- OPENED: May 12, 2012
- LOCATION: Houston, TX
Fan’s Insider Tip
James Hromadka (@nobius): Houston Dynamo fans have slowly built a thriving tailgating culture before the games. Whether you are tailgating with a small group of people or going to one of the supporters groups larger tailgates, there is plenty of fun to be had. The Texian Army, for example, has a large tailgate with games, food, and more every home game. You'll find the tailgating area just north of the stadium. It's only available for Dynamo season ticket-holders, so if you aren't one, find a friend or a supporters group to join in on the fun.
If tailgating is not your thing, there are several very good bars in the area. Lucky's Pub is the most popular pre- and post-game bar, and if it’s too crowded there are several others within a stone's throw of Lucky's.
Parking lots fill quickly around BBVA Compass Stadium, but the Metro Rail has a stop right in front of the stadium if you want to avoid the hassle.