[MLS SPOTLIGHT] No longer a member of the Western Conference, Houston plays the Galaxy Wednesday to start a run of four games against former conference rivals. When MLS announced Houston would shift conferences to accommodate the addition of Portland and Vancouver, Coach Dominic Kinnear cited the possible travel benefits before anything else.
“I don’t think it’s going to make a heck of a lot of difference,” said Kinnear to speculation it would be easier to make the playoffs, which the Dynamo failed to do in 2010, playing in the conference that produced only two of eight playoff teams last year. “We might get a break on the travel, since we’re kind of in the middle of the country, but with four more games [34 instead of 30], that probably cancels itself out. More games will put more pressure on the rosters, that’s for sure, so I’m glad MLS expanded the rosters to 30.”
The roster pressure for Houston and several other MLS teams increases next week when players leave for the Gold Cup. Headed out of town are defender Andrew Hainault (Canada) and defender Jermaine Taylor and midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson (both Jamaica). They will leave after the Dynamo plays FC Dallas on Saturday.
A 2-2 tie with New York last Saturday started a run of three games in eight days; the Dynamo is in Southern California to play the Galaxy Wednesday. Kinnear will rotate players as best he can this week; to get through the Gold Cup, he’ll need to dip deep into his roster, which is missing forward Brian Ching, sidelined with plantar fasciitis. The first two games in the Gold Cup window are at San Jose and home against Chivas USA, two more Western opponents.
For the past month Kinnear has been plugging in players to cope with the demands of late May and June. Danny Cruz has returned to training after suffering a hyperextended knee, and has played six games as Kinnear explores options at right mid. He is doubtful for the Galaxy game but Kinnear wants his abilities on the field available soon as possible.
“Danny is all energy," says Kinnear. “He’s eager and likes to just drive forward and make the fullback run, which is a fullback’s disaster, because you’ve got to go with the guy.”
Rookie Will Bruin has been a sensation with four goals, including a hat trick, and another rookie, defender Kofi Sarkodie, went the full 90 minutes against Seattle March 25 in his only appearance and played with the U.S. under-20s on its tour of France.
One of the players signed to boost the Dynamo attack, Designated Player Sergio Koke, scored his first league goal against the Red Bulls after replacing Bruin, who started up top with Cam Weaver, in the 75th minute. Koke wasn’t impressed.
“The Red Bulls did not appear to me to be from another planet,” said Koke to mlssoccer.com “I don't understand why they're placed on a pedestal. I believe we were better and we deserved more, but unfortunately we let the win escape.”
So far, wins have escaped Houston in May, and while during that span it has tied RSL on the road, it squandered a win against New York by conceding a stoppage-time equalizer. Despite winning just three of 11 games, Houston (3-3-5, 14 points) is in third place of the Eastern Conference, which under the revamped system is a guaranteed playoff spot. Last year the Dynamo managed just 33 points in 30 games and finished 13 points out of the postseason.
“I think we’re playing well,” Kinnear said. “I’m not trying to make the sun shine, but I told the guys, ‘Be disappointed; I am.’ We let up late but, all in all, I really like what I’m seeing from the team.”