In nine years, the Houston Dynamo had not suffered a worse season than that of 2014.
The Dynamo recorded the team’s lowest finish, eighth in the Eastern Conference, and also suffered 17 defeats, the most in club history. There needed to be changes in Houston, and they came.
The solution: a new head coach in Owen Coyle and a proven MLS goalscorer in Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres. The Dynamo also penned Raúl Rodríguez, a 27-year-old center back who comes from Liga BBVA’s RCD Espanyol. Rodríguez made 80 first-team appearances for his former Spanish club, regularly facing the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid over the course of five seasons.
The Dynamo will want him to shore up a defense that conceded 58 goals, tied for 17th out of 19 teams in goals against in 2014. But with Houston only scoring 39 goals all season, the changes did not stop with Rodríguez. The Dynamo offense needed a new look.
Torres’ signing was announced in December, which was a vital pickup for the league and for the Dynamo. But in January, Houston announced the signing of Leonel Miranda on loan from C.A. Independiente in Argentina. With the addition of Miranda, a 21-year-old midfielder who made 34 appearances and scored two goals for El Rojo, the biggest offseason changes were complete. Houston acquired a new head coach, a proven goalscorer, a dynamic and young midfielder and a tested veteran defender. And still, the additions kept coming.
Here is a closer look at the 2015 Houston Dynamo:
HOUSTON DYNAMO SEASON PREVIEW
2014 FINISH: 11-17-6, 39 points (8th in Eastern Conference)
KEY ACQUISITIONS: F Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres (signed), M Leonel Miranda (signed), D Raúl Rodríguez (signed), GK Joe Willis (traded from DC United), M Nathan Sturgis (Re-Entry draft), M Jose Rodriguez (signed), F Chandler Hoffman (Re-Entry draft), M Zach Steinberger (draft), D Oumar Ballo (draft), D Taylor Hunter (draft), M Rob Lovejoy (draft), M Samuel Inkoom (traded from DC United, unsigned), HC Owen Coyle (moved from Wigan Athletic)
KEY LOSSES: GK Tally Hall (traded to Orlando City SC), M Andrew Driver (traded to DC United), HC Dominic Kinnear (moved to San Jose Earthquakes)
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres. Whether he joins the Dynamo in May or later in the summer, the latest Dynamo Designated Player will be Houston’s key man this MLS season. Netting 15 goals in 26 appearances for Chivas USA last year, Torres will be an important piece for the Dynamo going forward. If he can replicate last season’s form, Houston may have all of the pieces by the end of the year to put up a fight in the Western Conference.
PRESSURE IS ON: Brad Davis. With a new coach at the helm, the Houston Dynamo need veteran experience, and Davis will need to rise up and be that leader this season. Even with a poor team performance, Davis claimed 11 assists in 2014, which is the 6th time he has provided more than 10 assists in the nine years he has been with Houston. But with Torres’ arrival date up in the air, everyone will be looking at Davis to create and produce this season with most Dynamo chances going through him.
Even with four big additions during the offseason, Houston’s starting lineup will look fairly similar to the Forever Orange faithful on opening day, but as the season progresses, things will undoubtedly change with a new coach at the helm.
Brad Davis is set to captain the Dynamo in his 14th season as a professional while familiar Dynamo faces, like Will Bruin, Ricardo Clark, Jermaine Taylor, Demarcus Beasley, Boniek Garcia and Kofi Sarkodie, are likely to start next to the captain on opening day. Another Dynamo veteran, Giles Barnes, will also feature into Coyle’s plans as things move forward.
Houston will be hoping for a more productive year from Luis Garrido. The 24-year-old Honduran midfielder started two matches for his country at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and he joined the club on loan in July. The Dynamo hoped he would quickly slide into their side, gelling with Honduran teammates Boniek Garcia and Alexander Lopez, but in his 11 starts for the Orange in 2014, he didn’t produce or contribute to any goals.
Lopez, one of the Dynamo’s three Designated Players, also had trouble last campaign, starting only one match in 10 MLS appearances. The 22-year-old midfielder will need to show he is worth his Designated Player role. In Wednesday’s preseason match against New York City FC, Coyle paired Lopez with Will Bruin up top, so the Honduran could see more time as a second striker than as a box-to-box midfielder.
The designated Dynamo most people will be talking about this season is not currently with the squad. Most recently, Torres netted the game-winning goal for Chivas Guadalajara against Irapuato in Copa MX. But seeing little game time for Chivas in league play, Erick Torres may be wearing the bright orange jersey sooner than anticipated.
“From a head coach’s perspective, I would love to have him,” Owen Coyle told SBI in a phone interview. “That goes without saying. But the great thing we know is that when he does come in, he adds another dimension to us.
“He is an international striker that scores goals, and everybody in the game craves that type of player that can win matches, can entertain and light up a stadium, and ‘Cubo’ Torres certainly does that.”
With the departure of their 2014 starting goalkeeper, Tally Hall, Houston acquired former DC United goalkeeper Joe Willis via a trade in Dec., but Coyle said 26-year-old goalkeeper Tyler Deric, who was the first homegrown player signed from Houston’s own development academy in 2009, is making his opening day lineup hard to figure out.
Nathan Sturgis and Chandler Hoffman, who were both acquired by Houston in the MLS Re-Entry Draft in December, are likely see a good amount of the field this year. Sturgis split playing time between Colorado Rapids and Chivas USA in 2014 while the 24-year-old Hoffman moves over from the LA Galaxy. But still, the new faces do not stop there. The Dynamo signed all four of their draftees, Zach Steinberger, Oumar Ballo, Taylor Hunter, and Rob Lovejoy.
Fans may also notice wider playing lines this season as Coyle increased the width of the field by three yards to better suit his tactical approach. Overall, the Dynamo certainly have some fresh faces to start the year, but after last year’s results, changes were needed. The team is entering the Western Conference, which now holds the last six MLS Cup winners with the inclusion of Sporting KC and their move to the West this year.
“We will certainly grow as a team, Houston Dynamo, knowing we have to be competitive against some big, big players, in terms of bigger clubs with bigger financing than ourselves,” Coyle said.
“But we already think we can punch above our weight, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP