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PREVIEW: Redesigned Dynamo looks formidable again
by Ridge Mahoney, March 4th, 2014 6:07PM

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TAGS:  houston dynamo, mls

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[MLS 2014: Eastern Conference] Since winning back-to-back MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007, Houston has twice gone back to the final game without winning it. Losses to the Galaxy in the 2011 and 2012 championship games preceded last year’s tumble to eventual champion Sporting Kansas City.

That impressive track record and its conquest of Supporters’ Shield winner New York prior to the SKC series are hallmarks of Houston’s remarkable consistency. That it has reached the playoffs in seven of eight seasons since moving from San Jose is a testament to head coach Dominic Kinnear, who has consistently replenished his squad to maintain good results.

2013 Houston Dynamo
Record: 14-11-9.
Finish: 4th in Eastern Conference.
Playoffs: defeated in conference final.

A vital cog of the team’s success, centerback Bobby Boswell, played out his contact and returned to D.C. United. During preseason former Timber David Horst and draft pick A.J. Cochran dueled with veteran Eric Brunner for a spot in the lineup alongside Jermaine Taylor. The front line is a bit depleted with the retirement of Brian Ching and departures of target-man Cam Weaver and speedster Calen Carr, who suffered a torn ACL during MLS Cup 2012 after battling through concussion issues the season before.

Houston swung one of the rarest moves in MLS, an intraleague loan, to acquire attacker Tony Cascio from Colorado. With regular starter Warren Creavalle sidelined during preseason rehabbing from offseason surgery, Kinnear moved Cascio around in preseason and such could be the case during the season when Oscar Boniek Garcia leaves for World Cup duty with Honduras. Brad Davis is a longshot to make the U.S. roster and the failure of Jamaica to qualify relieves Kinnear of other possible concerns.

Eastern Conference Preview:
Chicago | Columbus | D.C. United

WHY BE OPTIMISTIC? Kinnear, Kinnear, Kinnear. The former U.S. midfielder has a knack for shrewdly revamping his squad in mid-season as well as addressing issues during the winter. One of his acquisitions prior to the 2013 season, attacker Omar Cummings, played just 11 games because of knee injuries. If he can stay healthy, Cummings will bring those elements pace whether or not he comes close to the career-high 14 goals he scored during Colorado’s run to the title in 2010. He can also complement striker Will Bruin, whose production slipped from 12 goals to eight last season, and Giles Barnes, who in his first full MLS season led the Dynamo with nine goals.

Davis, one of the league’s classiest players, consistently provides an impressive array of serves and crosses, and in recent seasons has greatly sharpened his effectiveness sliding inside. Ricardo Clark’s amazing range allows Kinnear the flexibility to tweak his midfield with minimal disruption of defensive shape. Houston’s regular outside backs, Corey Ashe and Kofi Sarkodie, are among the league’s elite and provide both stability and attacking influence on the flanks. Tally Hall is amazingly athletic and at age 28 should have acquired the experience to challenge for Goalkeeper of the Year honors.

WHY BE PESSIMISTIC? Replacing Boswell, the unquestioned leader in the back, whether directly or by committee, is crucial. Knocking off troubled Montreal and creaky New York in the playoffs papered over the problems of finishing -- that’s you, Will Bruin -- and midfield hiccups that led to a fourth-place finish in the first place. And despite his prowess, Hall has yet to deliver a full season that prompts everyone, not just Dynamo fans, to petition Jurgen Klinsmann regarding the 2018 World Cup squad.

PROJECTED FINISH: 3rd-5th place. One can’t imagine Houston not in the playoffs, but banging heads with the defending champion and Supporters’ Shield winner along with surging New England makes for a long, hard slog.

PROJECTED LINEUP: 4-4-2
Goalkeeper:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
1-Tally Hall (28)/USA (6th season)

Defenders:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
8-Kofi Sarkodie
(22)/USA (4th season)
2-Eric Brunner (28)/USA (2nd season)
4-Jermaine Taylor (29)/Jamaica (4th season)
26-Corey Ashe (27)/USA (8th season)

Midfielders:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
28-*Tony Cascio (23)/USA (Colorado Rapids)
13-**Ricardo Clark (31)/USA (3rd season)
27-Oscar Boniek Garcia (29)/Honduras (3rd season)
11-Brad Davis (32)/USA (10th season)

Forwards:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
23-Giles Barnes
(25)/England (3rd season)
12-Will Bruin (24)/USA (3rd season)

First off the bench:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
10-Alexander Lopez (21)/Honduras (2nd season)
18-David Horst (28)/USA (Portland Timbers)
20-Andrew Driver (26)/Scotland (2nd season)
7-Omar Cummings (31)/Jamaica (2nd season)
Houston Dynamo: complete roster.

Note:
returning players in bold.
*on loan.
**second stint with club.

MARCH SCHEDULE:
March 8: New England, 8:30 pm ET
March 15: Montreal, 8:30 pm ET
March 29: at Vancouver, 8 pm ET
Houston Dynamo: complete schedule.


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