Houston Dynamo: 2007 Season Preview

MLSnet.com: 2006 Season Wrap
MLSnet.com: Big Questions after '06
My Thoughts on the Dynamo’s '06 (Know my biases)

2006-07 Off-Season Changes
Soccer New England’s Ins & Outs - not that it matters with this bunch...

Houston Dynamo roster from MLSnet.com

And now, the Future...

Key Men
Dwayne DeRosario - I’ll begin by admitting that his preseason hasn’t been the best - at least not till he sprang Brad Davis down the left flank to set up Houston’s second goal in the 2-0 win over Pachuca. But no one is “on” all the time and I suspect DeRosario’s rhythm will return as the season progresses. Simply put, I count him as the best, current player in MLS; he can dribble, pass long and short, shoot from range, etc. etc. Basically, he does it all. Only Landon Donovan and Christian Gomez share the same class.

Brian Ching - Sure, he’s a classic, back-to-goal big-man, but that he keeps improving his game suggests to me that Ching’s best years are ahead of him. Scary thought for the rest of the league's fans, but he’s not the raw striver who came to San Jose.

Craig Waibel - I rate him highest in a quality Houston defense. Waibel’s solid and not a little intimidating, but he’s another player who continues to sharpen his game. They could do worse than shift him inside - something the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup has revealed - but he’s just as comfortable on the right.

Ricardo Clark (et al.) - Cheating a bit here by slipping the addendum, but, like the rest of the Houston midfield, Clark does the leg-work that allows DeRosario to be all he can be; Mullan deserves honorable mention in that role, plus a bit more, as does Davis. They’re all far better than second-banana journey-man: they all cover a lot of ground, tackle and harass the opposition (Mullan and Clark more than Davis, who’s no slouch either), but also provide something going forward (Davis, especially). But Clark’s the safety net for all of them, covering the most ground, not to mention the other players, when they go forward.

Additional Assets
Happy, Happy - Is it just me or does the Houston squad friggin’ reek of a love-fest? In any case, mutual admiration societies tend to do well in team sports.

That Midfield - I hint at this above, but it’s worth mentioning directly: I don’t see a better, more effective midfield in the league. The longer their starters stay healthy, the better this team will be.

Long, Long Road - In truth, I should have slipped this same note into DC United’s preview (just re-read that as if I did, OK?): Houston not only starts early, they also have SuperLiga on top of U.S. Open Cup and regular season obligations. Does the squad have the depth to handle such a hectic, wearying pace over the next eight months?

Depth? - While there are few, if any, better starting elevens in MLS, it’s not clear that Houston possesses the depth to handle, say, a Columbus Crew 2006-sized injury plague. Recent contributions by guys like Chris Wondolowski, Ryan Cochrane, not to mention Zach Wells’ ongoing star-turn in goal, suggest they’ll be fine, but there’s no test like a long season to identify any pretenders.

Prospects - Using Gambling Analogies
If you know anything about horse racing, you’ll know there’s no such thing as a person who can call the races every time; even the most famous handicappers seem to miss often as they hit. That Houston plays like the best handicapper picks may not sound like much, but it’s actually high praise. It means they’ll walk away with something more often than not - even if it’s breaking even (e.g. those 13 ties from last season) - and nail the big payday from time to time. And that’s what most games are about: minimizing losses and capitalizing on the openings.

They’re a playoff team, to be sure, but I’ll count myself surprised if they return to, never mind win, a consecutive MLS Cup. Everyone has an off-day.

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