2. MLS COUNTDOWN: Houston continues trophy hunt

By Mike Woitalla
Executive Editor


Let's get this straight -- the Houston Dynamo is aiming for its fourth MLS crown this season.

The record books might not indicate that, because the first two titles, in 2001 and 2003, came when the team was the San Jose Earthquakes, whose feats MLS files away in its "Fact and Record Book" under Former Teams.

But the Dynamo wasn't created out of scratch last year. It arrived in Houston with its San Jose coach and most of its players. Dominic Kinnear was the team's assistant coach when it won its titles and was its head coach for two seasons before the relocation to the South Texas. Most of the heroes of the 2006 title win were also Earthquakes.

Dwayne De Rosario, Brian Mullan, Brian Ching, Wade Barrett, Craig Waibel, Pat Onstad and Eddie Robinson were part of Earthquake and Dynamo championship wins. And other key players, such as Ricardo Clark and Brian Davis, came along from San Jose. In fact, the only MLS club that ever relocated remains one of the league's most steady on the field.

Of MLS's 13 head coaches going into the 2007 season, only two (Chicago's Dave Sarachan and New England's Steve Nicol) have been at the helm of their clubs longer. And Kinnear, at 39 the league's second youngest head coach, has found success without making major player acquisitions even though it had lost the hero of its first two titles, Landon Donovan, after the 2005 season. Scotsman Paul Dalglish is the only player signed from abroad during Kinnear's tenure. He arrived late in the season and struck twice in the playoffs.

That the Dynamo (né Earthquakes) is in good position to match D.C. United's record four MLS titles owes much to the fact that 28-year-old De Rosario did not leave for Europe. De Rosario has become better with the years. Evolving from forward to midfield playmaker while continuing to put up stats like last season's 11 goals and five assists. DeRosario heads an impressive midfield that includes Clark, arguably last season's top defensive midfielder, and wingers Mullan and Davis.

Up front, Ching scored 11 goals in 21 regular-season games, then struck three times in the playoffs, including the late overtime goal that sent the final into penalty kicks. Only one starter from the MLS Cup has departed -- Adrian Serioux, a defensive player who isn't hard to replace.

In its quest to match D.C. United as the league's most successful club, Houston is aiming for its first international title - the CONCACAF Champions Cup, which D.C. United lifted in 1998. The Dynamo faces Mexico's Pachuca on Thursday. (TV: Live, 9:30 pm ET on Fox Soccer Channel & Fox Sports en Espanol).

In the first leg in Houston, the Dynamo downed the Mexican club, 2-0, but the second leg takes place at 7,960 feet above sea level, and Pachuca has ensured itself of strong fan support: Admittance to the game is free.

HOUSTON PRESEASON ROSTER
Goalkeepers
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)

1 Zach Wells (Houston Dynamo)
18 Pat Onstad (Houston Dynamo)
29 Jordan James (Cincinnati Kings)
Defenders
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)

2 Eddie Robinson (Houston Dynamo)
3 Kevin Goldthwaite (Houston Dynamo)
4 Pat Ianni (Houston Dynamo)
5 Ryan Cochrane (Houston Dynamo)
6 Kelly Gray (Houston Dynamo)
16 Craig Waibel (Houston Dynamo)
24 Wade Barrett (Houston Dynamo)
Midfielders
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)
7 Chris Wondolowski (Houston Dynamo)
8 Paul Dalglish (Houston Dynamo)
9 Brian Mullan (Houston Dynamo)
11 Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo)
13 Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo)
14 Dwayne De Rosario (Houston Dynamo)
17 Mike Chabala (Houston Dynamo)
19 John Michael Hayden (Indiana Univ.)
22 Stuart Holden (Houston Dynamo)
23 Mpho Moloi (Univ. of Connecticut)
26 Corey Ashe (Univ. of North Carolina)
27 Erik Ustruck (Santa Clara Univ.)
31 Nick Hatzke (Univ. of California)
Forwards
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)
12 Julian Nash (Houston Dynamo)
15 Alejandro Moreno (Houston Dynamo)
25 Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo)
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