By AVI CREDITOR
There's the Juan Pablo Angel game-winning free kick in injury time that caromed off the post, the goalkeeper and into the net.
There's the time former team centerpiece Dwayne De Rosario buried a free kick to put a dagger into the team's postseason hopes. Twice. In the same game.
Then there's the fact that the team hasn't won two league matches in a row all season.
After seemingly being impervious to misfortune, the Houston Dynamo has seen plenty go awry this year and will miss the postseason for the first time since the club moved to Houston from San Jose in 2006.
"It''s been hard," Dynamo coach Dom Kinnear said. "There's ebb and flow with MLS, and I really didn't think this would be the year where we'd be where we are. I thought going into this season we'd not only be a playoff team, but a contender for the title, and to see where we're at now, it not only surprises me, it sickens me."
The margin between Western Conference bottom feeder and playoff contender for the Dynamo is smaller than most may realize.
According to the team's media relations department (via the Elias Sports Bureau), the team has set a dubious league record by losing on goals given up in stoppage time on four occasions this season.
Two of those losses came in a stretch earlier this month when the Dynamo had consecutive games against San Jose, Toronto and Kansas City – teams directly ahead of Houston in the league table – while the team was still in the picture for one of the lower playoff seeds.
"Every team goes on a run," Kinnear said. "We haven't. We never had that feel of confidence. There's been a lot of ups and downs, but the last month has been rough. The goals that we've given up have been very preventable, and that really makes you sick."
One of those preventable goals came against Kansas City on Sept. 22, when the Dynamo comfortably led, 3-1, at CommunityAmerica Ballpark. Veteran goalkeeper Pat Onstad slipped on a goal kick, essentially passing the ball right to Teal Bunbury, who dribbled in and scored to cut the lead and change momentum at the 60th-minute mark. The Wizards ended up winning on a goal at the tail-end of stoppage time.
"The Kansas City game was a perfect example (of the season in a nutshell)," Onstad said. "Me slipping on the second goal when we had the game comfortably in hand, and all of a sudden the game turns on its head.
"It's probably the most difficult season I've had in 23 years of professional soccer. Things that can go wrong have gone wrong. … It's been a pretty disastrous year."
Many pundits and Dynamo personnel alike figured that Houston would encounter a few bumps in the road this season. After losing U.S. national team midfielders Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark to Europe, it would have been stunning for there not to have been a negative impact; However, not many expected twice as many losses as wins and a minus-10 goal differential.
"The subtraction of players over the course of the offseason took its toll on us probably more so than we imagined," Kinnear said. "The one thing I wish we could've done was hold on to the two guys who played in the World Cup. It wasn't for a lack of effort."
The team also lost former captain Wade Barrett to the Houston coaching staff and assistant coach John Spencer to the Portland Timbers MLS franchise, but even so, the Dynamo returned a talent- and experience-laden roster and appeared primed to embark on another successful season after barely missing out on a trip to MLS Cup last November.
Injuries to Brian Ching and Geoff Cameron derailed the team after some early success, though, and the ever-changing lineups and lack of high-caliber depth finally caught up with the team.
"For a long time we've had a good core group of guys, and a few of them have walked out the door and some new guys have come in," said all-star midfielder Brad Davis, who has had to cope with losing De Rosario, Holden and Clark as part of his midfield tandem in the last two years.
"It's hard to fill those shoes. You start to get accustomed to what each guy likes to do. We knew what each guy brought to the table, we knew what one another was going to do, we knew the system we wanted to play and we knew each other's strengths and weaknesses. When you start to interchange and get some new guys in there it takes a little bit. We all have to adapt."
For the core guys that remained, injuries and off-field distractions lingered. Ching, for one, readily admits that being left off the U.S. World Cup roster took away his focus.
"I could have done a better job in leading the team," Ching said. "Dealing with the whole World Cup thing, I think my mind wasn't always in the right place this year. I'm a little disappointed in that, but I'm looking forward to finishing out this year strong and being a better leader next year."
Cameron, who was supposed to step into the midfield and become more of a contributor offensively, suffered a serious knee injury during the fifth game of the season in Chicago.
While the initial prognosis was that he would miss the remainder of the season, the injury turned out not to be as severe, though he still missed 13 games. Only now is he really able to embrace his new role.
"I was starting to feel a little bit more confident taking that role, and then the injury happens," said Cameron, who scored his second goal of the season last Saturday against D.C. United. "It's been tough sitting on the sideline and watching your team struggle. For me it's just good to be back playing on the field again."
While Kinnear hopes that his squad finishes out this season as successfully as possible, he already has his eye on a bounce-back 2011. He shipped veteran winger Brian Mullan to Colorado for Colin Clark prior to the trade deadline, acquiring a young, talented midfielder, albeit one who is currently rehabbing a torn anterior cruciate ligament for the second time in as many seasons.
Kinnear has also been given the green light from the Dynamo's ownership group to spend some cash and bring in a big-name Designated Player who will raise the team's profile as it prepares to move into its new Downtown Houston stadium in 2012.
"It's been kind of fun to put a list together," Kinnear said. "It's great to have that financial backing behind you, but expectations can't spin out of control."
The search for Houston's newest DP is underway, but one can't fault Kinnear and the Dynamo for treading cautiously. After the Luis Angel Landin DP experiment resulted with the Mexican striker being cut in the summer, the team is going to do its due diligence to avoid another big-money flop.
"We dabbled in the DP area, and it didn't work out for us," Kinnear said. "With the new stadium and the new training facility being built, the emphasis is on a bigger name, but there does come some complications with that.
"If you're looking to spend a ton of money, it's going to be on the attacking side. If you ask every manager around the world what he wants, it's a game-winner, and the game-winner is a goal scorer."
Whoever that new player turns out to be, he'll have to mesh with the Dynamo's remaining core in trying to lead a still-proud franchise back to its accustomed heights.
"It's kind of a transition time," Ching said. "It's my job and Brad and Pat's job to instill that winning attitude on the guys that come in. We didn't perform this year, and we need to turn that around."
Were you surprised at the Dynamo's futility this season? What do you think Houston needs to do to become a cup contender again? Who would you like to see the Dynamo sign as a DP?
Share your thoughts below.
I’m sorry you’re from Dallas. Dom Kinnear is the best developer of talent in the league. He helped build a roster that included DeRo, Clark, Holden, Davis, Ching, etc. All players who’ve been capped by their respective national teams. He was also a part of developing a washed out European player by the name of Landon Donovan. He’s got 4 rings. You’re an idiot.
The fact that you said it is an indictment on DK’s ability to build a roster is so far out of bounds one might have to question your knowledge of anything in MLS: 2009, lost in conference final, year before, 2008 best record in the west, 2007 and 2006 MLS CUP Champions, 2005 Supporters Shield Winners, after inheriting a team that barely made the playoffs the year before.
What he probably meant is that he thought the talent he had still on the roster was good enough to compete and then a few things didnt go their way (Cameron injury, Robinson never finding true form, Lack of a 2nd striker).
Either way, the team is basically in teh same position as it was in 2004 when they had to jettison players such as Jeff Agoos, Troy Dayak, Ronnie Ekelund, Richard Mulrooney, Todd Dunivant and Landon Donovan. After losing players like that, everyone thought taht SJ would be bad for years to come and Kinnear built them quickly into what the DC United teams were at hte beginning of MLS
Agree totally. I wonder if Rico, Boswell and Robinson had a good chemistry that Palmer can’t replace, or if maybe the central defense (including Cochrane and Serioux) just aren’t able to match the attacking talent that is coming into the league. Cameron looked good in the back last year, he may be worth another look if Houston gets an attacking mid DP.
Numerous beneficial trades that Kinnear has made negate your indictment. I think this was just a rebuilding year, and he knows that. I believe he is not really shocked that the Dynamo have struggled, but he isn’t going to say something like, “yeah, I knew we would be bad…” What kind of message is that to your players.
He has built and managed championship teams before, and I have a feeling he is working on doing just that again.
Chances are that Houston will overpay for a forward DP from Europe. It would be much better to spend the DP money on a defensive presence to shore up the leaky backline. A CDM or CB with some vision and playmaking ability is the real need.
My jaw almost hit the floor when I read DK’s comment. You lose Holden and Clark, don’t replace them, have numerous guys on the wrong side of 30, and you’re shocked at having a down year? Yikes.
MLS is a constantly improving league. Every year the talent gets better and better, the teams get deeper and deeper. You have the Galaxies and Red Bulls out there bringing in high level Euro talent. You have FCD, Seattle and RSL mining Latin America for cheaper, lesser known talent. Houston not only stood pat this offseason, they lost two HUGE components and did next to nothing to replace them. The fact that Dom is “shocked” that they weren’t very good is a HUGE indictment in his ability to build a roster in this league, IMO.
Good piece of writing, Avi!
Exactly. Nobody seems to talk about how good Rico was at shielding the back four. As much as people dog him on this site, Clark is good and played very well for us here in Houston.
ADDitions, as in adding something to the team.
thank you guys both ^ for 1. asking the question 2. having an answer. i’ve been wondering ever since that whole mess went down.
I am very bullish on the Dynamo and any player who is young and has the ability to play should line up and want to play for Dom. Very players have come out of this organization when they started as ordinary: DeRo (can you believe he used to play defender until Dom changed him), Ching, Davis, Robinson, Cameron, Onstad, R Clark, Holden, Barrett, Mulrooney.
We need to get a stronger defense to keep balls out of our net, but we need to get a creative mid fielder to keep the ball on the ground. No more long balls. We used to have a beautiful passing and attacking style that no longer exists. Very sad. But very excited for all of the changes happening in the next 2 years. Downtown stadium, new practice complex, new DP(s), …bliss!
You don’t lose three players like DeRo, Holden and Clark and expect your midfield to be anything but dysfunctional.
You can replace them with good players, but those good players then have to find chemistry.
Look how long it has taken RedBulls to jell in the middle of the park.
That said Dom is a great coach and I am sure he will have the Dynamo sorted for next season.
You know, it’s nice to think that Dynamo will get an attacking DP, but the problems actually have not been in the attack this season. Also revealing on the table is the fact that with 35 goals scored, Dynamo are fourth in the Western Conference and tied with Eastern leader Columbus for fourth overall in MLS, hardly a worst in the league scoring number. However, there are two goals on the field right? Over on the other end, Dynamo have given up 45 goals, tied for worst in the league with New England. And no one is even close to us (well, DCU is close at 42. OK. OK.)
So go ahead Dom, Canetti and the rest, go get an attacking DP. But the problems in 2010 have been in defense.
I always admired the way Houston acquired and developed the young talent. Unfortunately I think that pipeline just couldn’t keep up with the losses, especially with the injuries this season. I think Clark was a good edition, seems to fit well with the way Houston plays. If they can stay healthy next year, they will be right back in the thick of things…
DeRo’s contract was about to be up (I think), and he had expressed a strong desire to move back to Canada to play at home. I also believe that the Dynamo were looking to unload DeRo while he still had value, rather than pay up and sign for another productive 2-3 yrs?? Purely speculative…
i thought palmer weaver and obodai were excellent editions to the team but they really needed to have a healthy season to make the playoffs. and in reality every team in the western conference improved. They need to to find 2 more quality players abroad and continue growing the young talent they have. It wouldnt hurt to start tally hall either
I think to say that “things that can go wrong have gone wrong” (Onstad) is kind of a cop out. While luck definitely plays a part in results, responsibility needs to be taken. Kinnear sounds as though he has a more realistic take on things when he says the last month made him sick. No pretense there. The personnel this team has is above par, however I agree that the depth just isn’t enough. Signing a DP will be great, but signing a DP that brings more than just a big name and fan appeal is more important to me. I don’t know who that is…
He got permission to play for the Laredo Heat this past season, getting his form back, actually scored lots of goals and was an impact. Hopefully he has taken care of the other situations and actually be given a chance again. He will make a difference, hopefully he can overcome his shyness and be ready to be adjusted to mls play.
100% agree with everything you just mentioned, it was going to be hard for any team in this league to be able to make a playoff push missing such large amounts of talent. MLS takes time to rebuild and reload, although i think Houston’s pieces cameron, davis, ching etc.. are strong enough to bring the team back next year.
Too bad, this is one of my favorite teams. Unpretentious but very steady. Losing Barrett, Holden and Clark for nothing, getting an injured winger for Mullen, effectively giving away De Rosario (why did this happen again?), Cameron’s injury, Ching’s inability to play a full season, Onstead and Robinson showing their age, Ngwenya not showing his former talent….
When it comes down to it, Houston has lost too much talent.
anyone know where Felix Garcia is? (laredo heat)