Before the Wizards use the comments of Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear to fire up their team and specifically Claudio Lopez, it should be pointed out that he made those remarks strictly in reference to how difficult it can be for a player, any player, to cut it in MLS.
While speaking about the learning curve of 21-year-old forward Franco Caraccio, Kinnear said, "No offense, but Claudio Lopez ain't exactly lighting it up."
Reading that sentence out of context might suggest Kinnear is calling Lopez, a Designated Player earning $820,000 this season, a disappointment. Such is not the case.
Kinnear, and just about every other MLS coach, knows that a player who can jump in immediately and "light it up," a la Juan Pablo Angel last year, is the exception.
"This is a tough league for anybody," says Kinnear, who played for Tampa Bay, Colorado, and San Jose before taking the job of assistant coach under Frank Yallop in 2001. "It takes time for a lot of guys. They're playing in the summer and traveling a lot more than maybe they're used to and adjusting to a new language and a new culture. We've seen some pretty good players take a few months, or maybe a whole season, to really get comfortable. Even if you have a really good feeling about a player, you just never know."
The risk inherent in signing such players is one reason Kinnear, and Yallop, prefer to use as many known commodities as possible.
Neither has signed a Designated Player, though Yallop admits he has both the salary-cap room and allocation funds to facilitate such a move.
Both have been successful plucking players from other MLS teams, especially the Galaxy, in expansion drafts and via trades.
The current Houston and San Jose rosters feature six players who formerly played in Los Angeles. Dynamo starters Brian Ching, Brian Mullan and Craig Waibelstarted in LA; Yallop has Joe Cannon, Gavin Glinton and Ned Grabavoy.
Last year, Kinnear obtained Nate Jaqua and Joseph Ngwenya in trades during the season and both played vital roles in Houston's retention of the MLS title.
The traffic runs in both directions: Kinnear picked Galaxy keeper Steve Cronin in the 2004 SuperDraft and sent Cronin and Todd Dunivant to LA the following year in exchange for Alejandro Moreno. But most of the flow has gone north.
"You go with what you know," says Kinnear, who points out that during his years (2001-05) in San Jose, the Quakes and Galaxy played each other at least four times a season in highly charged atmospheres. "You find out more about guys if the game is a rivalry with the pressure. The games were so tight you could see the guys were good players."
Since taking over for Yallop at the start of the 2004 season, Kinnear has compiled a record of 53-31-44 as head coach. Of his team's 0-1-3 start he's concerned but not worried. Still, that first win can't come soon enough.
Houston plays at Columbus Saturday with its injury list dwindling. Waibel played only one league game this season before aggravating a hamstring injury against Saprissa in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, keeper Pat Onstad has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury.
"At first, our back line was good but our midfield was struggling," he says. "Then our midfield struggled and the back line was doing better. Now I think we're coming out of it, because it was a tough stretch, and we're pretty close to having everybody ready."