Houston Dynamo coach Owen Coyle has found success at the game's highest levels, but that doesn't mean his first MLS season went by without a few surprises.
The shortest flight Houston takes to an away game is probably shorter than the longest flight Coyle's Premier League teams took. The toll that travel takes is hard enough. Coyle said the Dynamo will fly more than 63,000 miles this season, and the amount of time taken up changes the structure of the training schedule.
If the Dynamo can get better away from BBVA Compass Stadium, they'll be a shoo-in for a playoff return. Only the last-place Chicago Fire were worse on the road than the Dynamo were last year, a fact Coyle seemed very aware of.
"I think that was a huge eye-opener," Coyle told Goal USA. "I know historically the Houston Dynamo historically have not done particularly well on the road, and that’s something we have to look to change because if we did a fraction better last year, we would’ve already been in the playoffs last year with what we inherited, never mind moving forward."
He has a number of options going forward on the pitch, with offseason additions Cristian Maidana and Andrew Wenger joining from the Philadelphia Union and Leonel Miranda's loan from Independiente extended. That adds to existing weapons like Giles Barnes, Will Bruin, Erick "Cubo" Torres and Boniek Garcia. The Dynamo, despite new ownership arriving this winter, aren't able to splash a load of cash on a big-name designated player signing, Coyle said, so they have assembled a side with pieces from various backgrounds in hopes of competing as a unit.
"I think ultimately it’s balance of what you have and trying to get the best players available for the funding you have," he said. "If look at for example Toronto with Giovinco, Bradley, Altidore and then you add that to the salary cap. For example, that puts the wealth of a team at four or five times probably what we are, but that’s not to say that we can’t get a team that can go and win.
"Whether it’s a South American player, an American player, if it’s the right player, regardless of where they come from, we’re happy to bring them in as long as he can help us put the bits of the jigsaw together."
One piece that won't be part of the Dynamo puzzle this season Brad Davis. The American winger made more than 250 appearances in Houston and was an original member of the team. He was traded to Sporting Kansas City this offseason for draft picks and future considerations.
Davis' departure and the new additions show Coyle putting more of a mark on the team in his second season.
"I think we’re more of a counterattacking team," Barnes told Goal USA. "I think we’ve got a lot of pace in wide areas. We’ve got ball-players in central areas as well. What we’ve managed to do with the additions is solidify all over the pitch as well.
"We’re going to be hard to break down and we’re going to be very quick on the counterattack. That’s what people want to see. They want to see goals and excitement, and I think we’re going to give them that, give them exactly what they want."
Fans also want the Dynamo, who won the MLS Cup in their first two years based in Houston and were the runner-up in 2011 and 2012, to get back to the postseason. That's the next step for Coyle and Co.
HOUSTON DYNAMO SEASON PREVIEW
2015 FINISH: Eighth in the Western Conference (15-13-6), missed the playoffs
NOTABLE ADDITIONS: M Cristian Maidana, D Agus, M-F Andrew Wenger, M David Rocha, D Jalil Anibaba, D Aboulie Mansally
NOTABLE LOSSES: M Brad Davis, D Jermaine Taylor, M Luis Garrido, D Kofi Sarkodie, M Nathan Sturgis, M Alex Lopez
TOP NEWCOMER:Cristian Maidana. The midfielder will have to be coaxed into running with the Dynamo, but if he does then he could be a creative piece the team missed last season. Barnes, Torres and Bruin all have scoring potential, but they need someone to set them up. Maidana can do that from open play or from set pieces.
PLAYER TO WATCH:Ricardo Clark. While the pieces move around him, Clark provides the soul in the middle of the park. Having the veteran midfielder there gives the Dynamo's attacking players a bit of a security blanket to push forward and attack. He's not the flashiest, but if you pay attention during matches, you'll see just how vital the 33-year-old can be.
The Dynamo came on a bit at the end of the year, but a tired Barnes wasn't as effective as the team needed him to be to dig out of a hole created by winless streaks at the start of the season. The roster Coyle has built this season shows the coach's adaptation to MLS.
It still will be a struggle to get into the upper echelon of a tough Western Conference, but if the Dynamo can get production from Barnes, Maidana and Torres, or perhaps a few goals from Bruin, they'll be able to get back in the playoffs and could make a Timbers-esque charge for the MLS Cup.
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