By TRAVIS CLARK
Dominic Kinnear and the Houston Dynamo have some big questions to answer this year if they hope to qualify for a fifth consecutive postseason berth.
The departure of Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark to Europe leaves two gaping holes in their midfield, and Kinnear must reshuffle and prepare for life without two of his stars.
Enter third-year player Geoff Cameron. The versatile 24-year-old will likely slot in for Holden, and the recent signing of Jamaican international Lovel Palmer will help tidy up the defensive midfield spot Clark vacated. Still, replacing the two U.S. national team members is not going to be easy.
A solid defensive core returns for Houston, and if Eddie Robinson regains his form alongside Bobby Boswell, the defense should be in good enough shape to keep Houston in playoff contention — even if it takes some time to sort out the new midfield.
Here's a look at the 2010 Houston Dynamo:
2010 HOUSTON DYNAMO
Players to Watch– Brian Ching, Geoff Cameron, Brad Davis, Luis Angel Landin, Bobby Boswell
Key Arrivals– Lovel Palmer, Francisco Navas Cobo, Adrian Serioux
Key Departures– Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark
Projected lineup (New starters in bold)
—————-Brian Ching————-Dominic Oduro—————–
Brad Davis—————–Geoff Cameron—————Brian Mullan
Mike Chabala—Eddie Robinson–Bobby Boswell–Andrew Hainault
Biggest question– Can Houston succeed without Clark and Holden? Until the Dynamo prove otherwise, that will be a question Kinnear will likely get sick of.
Some interesting pieces are in place to do that, but outside of signing Palmer and Academy product Fransisco Navas Cobo, it looks like Houston will try and fill those holes with players already on the roster.
Cameron is a leading candidate to replace Holden, and Richard Mulrooney has seen time in the midfield during the preseason, though he is on a comeback from an injury. Brad Davis will need to shoulder more of the offensive load, and continue to dish out assist this year.
X-Factor– Luis Angel Landin. Signed in 2009 as a Designated Player, Luis Angel Landin came with high expectations — and to this point, expectations that he has failed to live up to. Since joining the club last August, Landin scored just once in seven appearances and was often accused of being out of shape.
He's enjoyed a relatively quiet pre-season while battling through various injuries, only recently going the full 90 in a friendly last week.
Goals will have to come early and often from Landin, and if he's able to produce, it would give the Houston attack a huge boost. With an 18-month loan in place, it's a make-or-break year for the Mexican striker. If he isn't the answer, Dominic Oduro and Cam Weaver will need to come up big.
Outlook– While the Holden-Clark conundrum keeps Houston off the MLS Cup contenders list, Dom Kinnear has proven himself as an MLS coach and there's no reason to believe that he can't get the job done this year.
The Houston Dynamo may not be as deep or menacing as in past years, but should be able to at least contend for a playoff spot in a tough Western Conference.