How the Houston Dynamo collapsed

[MLS] A dismal season for the Dynamo stopped a run of nine straight playoff appearances that included four MLS Cups -- two in San Jose, two more in Houston -- dating back to 2001. Coach Dominic Kinnear faces a daunting task in rebuilding what had been a perennial championship contender.

A confluence of factors pushed Houston into the lower tier of MLS for the first time in a long time.

U.S. midfielders Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark left last winter for European teams; replacements Lovel Palmer and Anthony Obodai didn’t measure up, and emerging star Geoff Cameron missed most of the season with a torn PCL. A leaky defense more than doubled the goals it had conceded in setting an MLS record (23) in 2007 with many of the same players.

“I don’t want to point the finger just at the back line; we’re a team, back to front,” said forward Brian Ching, who counts himself among the veterans who didn’t get it done. “We lost a big player in Rico [Clark]. He made the job so much easier for the back line. That was a big hole we really couldn’t fill. The guys in the back line, they haven’t had their best years, but it was more of a team thing than a back-line thing.

“Geoff getting hurt early in the season, he never got into a rhythm. In the past things were more or less set, even if we had to deal with national-team callups and other stuff. But this year, without Rico and Stuart, and then Geoff going down, that was a factor in the middle that kind of hurt us.”

LATE SHOW. One of six teams to allow at least 10 goals in the final 15 minutes of games, Houston’s collapses were incredibly costly. A 4-3 loss to Kansas City Sept. 22 marked the fourth time, and second straight game, it had conceded a winner in stoppage time. It goes into the final game of the season against Seattle with a record of 8-15-6 and just 30 points; San Jose occupies the eighth and final playoff spot with 43 points and still has two games to play.

“Just look at how many goals we gave up in the last 15 minutes to lose the tie or lose the win,” said Richard Mulrooney. “We’d be right in the thick of it, we’d be just fine. I think the goal was if we got 40 or 41 points, we were going to get in, and looking at the table, even if we won our last four or five games I don’t think we would have got in.”

LACK OF LEADERS. Despite the presence of veterans such as Ching, midfielder Brad Davis, defenders Eddie Robinson and Bobby Boswell, and keeper Pat Onstad, the experience that had carried Houston through so many challenging games seldom materialized.

Ching says those veterans, including himself, deserves some blame for not sufficiently mentoring the younger players before and during games. “I just think that we had a lot of turnover and lost a lot of guys -- and maybe this is a confidence issue -- who knew how to close out games,” he said.

“I would say that’s just the inexperience of a team that has gone through a lot of turmoil. Having said that, being one of the older guys and one of the leaders the team, I didn’t do enough during practices to bring out that mental toughness, to teach that to the young guys. This year we had so many new faces, that some of the older guys could have done more to instill confidence and how to close out games.”

Kinnear believed the effort was always there but on too many occasions the performances didn’t match the task at hand and never could the Dynamo string together consistent, strong performances.

“All season long, we’ve worked hard,” said Kinnear. “The past two months we’ve played our best stuff. The beginning of the year we were inconsistent. We haven’t won two in a row. That’s a terrible stat to have in your pocket when you’re going through a season. We never went on that run that every team seems to go on.”

OUTLOOK. Midfield veteran Brian Mullan has been traded to Colorado for a younger Colin Clark, this is probably the end of competitive play for 42-year-old goalkeeper Pat Onstad, and a few other vets older than 30 could be headed elsewhere. The younger brigade – all 25 or younger -- includes Danny Cruz, Corey Ashe, Dominic Oduro, Andrew Hainault, Tally Hall and Cameron, and also teenager Francisco Navas Cobo.

“To say this team needs to be fully blown up, I don’t fully believe that,” says Mulrooney, who turns 34 next month. “But having said that, something’s not right.”

2 comments about "How the Houston Dynamo collapsed ".
  1. Philippe Fontanelli, October 20, 2010 at 10:15 a.m.

    Mulrooney said "something's not right". He was right about that, Houston may have been the the number one team "before Columbus discovered America" but those days and the style of plays long gone even in the MLS. (New England included) But back Houston, Kinnearis has been sleeping lately, Ching is has been and I don't know what happened to Davis? Just look at the teams of the future playing attractive soccer and with results; Salt Lake number one with Kreis and the whole team. (Note that Findley a Bradley first team favorite can only be a sub with Kreis). Second the Red Bulls when they'll get their act together with Henry. Then San Jose and Dallas with a potential. Seattle maybe down the line due to their supporters strength but w/o SS. Chicago and Philly the same. And closing LA will follow Houston with pompous BA, especially if Beckham quits the game and Donovan goes abroad.

  2. Robert Schaefer, October 24, 2010 at 6 p.m.

    LA actually played their best football of the year while Donovan, Beckham, and Buddle were all gone! That line-up just simply refused to leak any goals (like only 2 goals in ten games).

    As an FC Dallas fan, Houston's collapse thrills me. I hated their tiny dog patch of a field, along with their rugby style of play. The Houston goon squad goes against the grain of where MLS is slowly headed; a direction which emphasizes the more fluid and dynamic aspects of the beautiful game, especially as the quality of the play--and players--continues to improve year after year. MLS will probably always be a bit more physical than other leagues, but the pendulum definitely needed to swing toward the center.

    The main problems were two-fold as far as I can see:

    #1 Pat Onstead needs to retire. A great keeper, perhaps the best in MLS historically, but given the number of times he was beaten on near post shots, it is time to hang up the cleats and consider coaching. 42 is old, even for a goal keeper.

    #2 Dominic Kinnear's ability as a team rebuilding coach has been poor. He is a sharp competitor, so it is possible he will learn from his mistakes, but the trades and player recruitment during 2009-2010 has been nothing short of lousy. Being from Dallas during the painful Hitchcock GM years, believe me that I know lousy player decisions--especially lousy DP decisions when I see it. :- )

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