Coach Dominic Kinnear moved another piece into place Monday with the re-signing of defender Bobby Boswell, which freed Kinnear to trade Pat Ianni to Seattle for a 2010 draft pick. Last Friday, Houston announced the signing of former San Diego State goalkeeper Tally Hall, who bypassed MLS to play two seasons with Danish club Esbjerg and has returned as a discovery player.
"I liked him when I saw him in college," Kinnear said in a press release. "I always thought he was a goalkeeper who could play in this league and be an asset to a team. When we heard he might be available, we felt it could be the right fit.
"We're very happy to have Bobby coming back. We had the best defense in the league [32 goals allowed] last year, and he was a big part of that. We feel defense is a big part of winning championships, and having Bobby in there will help us make a run at another title."
A stunning loss to New York in the MLS playoffs last November dethroned the two-time defending champion, which shook off that disappointment and, three days after MLS Cup, secured passage to the Concacaf Champions' League quarterfinals by winning a must-win game against Salvadoran club Luis Angel Firpo.
That same day, as had been expected, Seattle claimed forward Nate Jaqua in the expansion draft, which was just a prelude to what occurred a few weeks later when there came official confirmation of a trade: talismanic attacker Dwayne De Rosario to Toronto FC.
In his eight MLS seasons with San Jose and Houston, he helped those teams win four MLS Cups with electrifying dribbles and spectacular goals. He played 186 games, scored 51 goals, and registered 42 assists.
His departure leaves a large hole that Kinnear will fill by committee, not simply with straight-up replacement Stuart Holden. Ricardo Clark will assume some of the burden, as will wide midfielders Brad Davis and Brian Mullan, and occasional starters Corey Ashe and Geoff Cameron. Veteran Richard Mulrooney played a lot of right back last year, but he gives Kinnear yet another option in the middle alongside Clark, which could move Holden to a wide role at times.
"Holden is going to be holding down that position, but we have a very team-oriented style of play, from the goalies to the forwards in the front line," said Clark, who is one of several Houston players who will miss MLS matches to play for the USA. "Everybody contributes in their own way."
In return for De Rosario, Kinnear obtained defender Julius James and a chunk of allocation money. James, drafted in the first round by TFC last year, will compete with Boswell and another veteran, Eddie Robinson, for playing time in the middle. In his three pro seasons since being drafted out of UCLA, Ianni played well at times, but too often left himself stranded by poor decisions or poor positioning, and lacked the pace to make up ground when he had to.
Dark forecasts for the Dynamo fortunes this season ignore a few facts: Houston lost just five of 30 league matches (13-5-12) last year and on any other day would have beaten New York in the conference semifinals second leg instead of losing, 3-0, to an incredible goalkeeping display by Danny Cepero.
Over the past three seasons, while winning two league titles and reaching the Concacaf semifinals once and SuperLiga final once, it has won games with and without De Rosario. And no longer will Kinnear have to cover for De Rosario playing with Canada.
"Dwayne's a great player, has done great things for the league and the teams he's played for in big-time situations," said Clark, De Rosario's frequent midfield partner since their days with the original MLS Quakes, starting in 2005. "His style of play can't be reproduced. But every year the Houston Dynamo has lost players throughout the year, whether it be to injuries or national team games or whatever. The depth on the team has shined with players stepping up. That's just one more thing I expect this year."