Year two of the Owen Coyle project in Houston is underway. Coyle, the former Bolton and Wigan manager, has a year in MLS under his belt and more roster turnover this offseason hints he's getting the kind of players he wants at the club. The big question is whether the Dynamo, who finished near the bottom of a very competitive Western Conference in 2015, have the wherewithal to make a leap back into the playoffs this year.
The conventional wisdom is that the Dynamo are going to struggle again this year. But while they probably won't win many fans with their style of play, they have a pretty good roster, and if Will Bruin, Giles Barnes and Erick Torres score regularly, the steady team behind them could lock it down in defense. They could also be one of the surprise teams of MLS in 2016.
2015 record 11-14-9, 8th place in the Western Conference
2015 Playoffs Did not qualify
Key additions Cristian Maidana, Jalil Anibaba, Abdoulie Mansally, Agus, David Rocha, Andrew Wenger
Key losses Brad Davis, Jermaine Taylor, Nathan Sturgis, Luis Garrido
Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1) Tyler Deric; DaMarcus Beasley, Agus, Raul Rodriguez, Sheanon Williams; David Rocha, Ricardo Clark; Andrew Wenger, Cristian Maidana, Giles Barnes; Will Bruin
Houston is a club with a winning history, having won two MLS Cups and qualifying for the playoffs in seven of their first eight seasons. While the team might have missed the playoffs the last two seasons, missing them for a third year just isn't an option. Think of the Dynamo as a blue-chip stock that it's the middle of a bad run -- now is definitely the time to buy.
Our defensive depth stepping up. Over the last couple of seasons Houston's defense or lack thereof have been its undoing. After the 2014 season we knew the Houston defense needed help but it didn't really get any last year. That may have finally changed. Jalil Anibaba, Agus, Sebastien Ibeagha, Ivan Magalhaes, Abdoulie Mansally and Bradley Bourgeois have all joined the team to join and push starters DaMarcus Beasley, David Horst, Raul Rodriguez, and Sheanon Williams. While it's likely that we will see an Agus-Rodriguez pairing in the middle, Houston finally has options when it comes to the defenders on the field. But if those options don't pay off, then the team is back looking at missing the playoffs for a third year in a row.
Last year was head coach Owen Coyle's first year with the team. He came in near the end of the offseason and played 2015 with a number of the players who were brought in by former head coach Dominic Kinnear. Now he has had a full year with the team and a full offseason to bring in "his" guys. No excuses this season.
Still lingering in the ether is the question of how the team is going to use Mexican international striker Erick "Cubo" Torres. His preseason minutes seem to be coming with the second- and even third-string players. Last season he came in towards the end of the season and never seemed to find his groove on the field with the Dynamo. It was rumored that he was being shopped this offseason but that Houston couldn't find the deal that they were looking for. The team has invested too much money for him to sit on the bench this season. At the same time, playing a player who doesn't fit with the team on the field can be detrimental to the success of the team. Torres has shown in the past he can score in MLS, but if he can't contribute, it will be a headache in more ways than one for the club.