Will Bruin is struggling, but the young striker remains key to Dynamo success

Bob Levey

It's obvious Will Bruin is struggling. The striker's percentage of putting his shots on goal has declined dramatically this season, but Bruin is the best Houston has to offer. And odds are he'll turn things around.

The last two Houston Dynamo games will either be forgotten or remembered for a long time. That outcome will likely be determined by whether Houston makes the 2013 MLS Playoffs or falls on the wrong side of the red line in the Eastern Conference.

Last weekend, Adam Moffat nailed a shot in the last minute of the match against the Chicago Fire to salvage a point. It's a match Houston more or less needed to win to try and kill off the Fire and add separation between the two clubs. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

On Wednesday, the Dynamo had an opportunity to keep pace with the rest of the East against a Columbus Crew that was right on the fringe of being eliminated from the playoff race. The story was marred by missed chances (again) and defensive mistakes that led to a shocking 2-0 loss to the Crew.

Oh, what could have been.

During the match and carrying into the weekend is the frustration from fans with Will Bruin. He just hasn't been the same Bruin that we saw in 2012 and since he is the main offensive threat for the Dynamo, that is being pointed out week after week and missed chance after missed chance.

Bruin set a new Dynamo franchise record with goals scored in 2012 with 16 across all competitions. In only his third year in MLS, he was quickly becoming one of the most well-known young strikers.

In fact, MLSsoccer.com featured Bruin as one of the keys to the Dynamo playing "pretty soccer" back in December.

In the Opta Spotlight feature, it states:

He looks kind of funny when he runs. He's not particularly fast or especially quick. His hold-up play is still so-so. But get Bruin in the box with a chance to shoot, and he's one of the league's best.

And when Bruin gets a chance, he's almost guaranteed to hit the target (11 of 12 big chances on target). Among the top 20 players in MLS in big chances - opportunities expected be converted - Bruin (58.4 percent) trailed only Kenny Cooper, Chris Pontius, Thierry Henry and Eddie Johnson in conversion percentage.

Pretty impressive comments about the 23 year old striker.

In June of last year, I even highlighted Bruin's rise to the top and touched on how he was changing Dynamo history on my website.

So you're reading this saying, what the heck happened right?

In 2013, Bruin has recorded only six goals in 22 appearances. Sure he's contributed in other ways - like his 6 assists - but we're talking about that "almost guaranteed to hit the target" goal scoring ability.

Finishing is the first thing to come to mind about Bruin's lack of statistical production in 2013. But is that the issue? Has Bruin's finishing percentage declined?

Not so fast.

Before I continue, here's a disclaimer.

The table further below was used for the following statistics. It highlights all players in Major League Soccer that have scored five or more goals in the 2013 season. All stats have been taken directly from MLSsoccer.com's stats home and I've only added the two columns furthest to the right - Shots Effectiveness and Finishing.

A couple of definitions:

Shot Effectiveness - the players percentage of total shots on goal / total shots taken. Basically the ability of the player to get the ball on frame rather than send it into the stands.

Finishing - the players total goals scored / total shots on goal. Basically the percentage of the time the player's shot gets past the keeper. Killer instinct kinda stuff.

With that out of the way, let's talk about the differences in Bruin's "finishing" and "shot effectiveness."

In 2012, Bruin had 12 goals on 35 shots on goal. That's a conversion rate of 34 percent.

In 2013, Bruin has 6 goals on 19 shots on goal. That's a conversion rate of 32 percent. Down, but only slightly.

Some say Houston - or Bruin in this example - haven't created enough chances this year. There are times where the midfield isn't helping create opportunities or service into the box hasn't been quality.

Bruin actually will likely eclipse his shot total this season compared to last. In fact, with 68 shots so far, he's only 10 away from his total last year (78).

The problem has been turning those shots into effective shots.

Darrell Lovell, our friend over at MLSsoccer.com that is assigned to cover the Dynamo, tweeted this out during the Columbus match as fans began to come down hard on Bruin after three missed opportunities.

Darrell is right on point. Last season, Bruin was among the elite in getting his shots on goal.

So how is he doing in 2013? That's where the issue lies.

If you look at the top 75 players in MLS in shots taken, Bruin lies in the bottom half. Just a mere 28 percent of his shots have been on frame this year. Last year, he was in the top 25 of the entire league. As Darrell mentioned, he was with some impressive company.

Player Club GP G A SHTS SOG Shot Effectiveness Finishing
Blas Perez DAL 19 10 2 41 24 59% 42%
Diego Fagundez NE 23 9 6 40 23 58% 39%
Ryan Johnson POR 25 8 4 38 21 55% 38%
Fabian Espindola NY 24 7 2 43 23 53% 30%
Landon Donovan LA 17 8 7 31 16 52% 50%
Eddie Johnson SEA 16 7 2 39 20 51% 35%
Marco Di Vaio MTL 24 15 2 86 43 50% 35%
Robbie Keane LA 16 12 10 48 22 46% 55%
Conor Casey PHI 24 9 5 48 22 46% 41%
Robbie Findley RSL 20 6 2 31 14 45% 43%
Olmes Garcia RSL 20 5 4 29 13 45% 38%
Darlington Nagbe POR 26 8 3 48 21 44% 38%
Luis Gil RSL 24 5 3 30 13 43% 38%
Chris Wondolowski SJ 22 8 3 74 32 43% 25%
Camilo Sanvezzo VAN 24 14 4 91 39 43% 36%
Mike Magee CHI 23 14 3 82 35 43% 40%
Alvaro Saborio RSL 13 10 2 44 18 41% 56%
Lamar Neagle SEA 21 6 3 42 17 40% 35%
Felipe Martins MTL 24 5 7 42 17 40% 29%
Obafemi Martins SEA 15 7 3 30 12 40% 58%
Dominic Oduro CLB 27 9 2 72 28 39% 32%
Kenny Miller VAN 17 7 0 34 13 38% 54%
Javier Morales RSL 24 7 10 42 16 38% 44%
Claudio Bieler KC 25 9 3 66 25 38% 36%
Tim Cahill NY 22 8 4 45 17 38% 47%
Federico Higuain CLB 25 9 6 73 27 37% 33%
Will Johnson POR 20 6 3 41 15 37% 40%
Jack McInerney PHI 24 10 0 76 27 36% 37%
Graham Zusi KC 22 5 6 43 15 35% 33%
Diego Valeri POR 24 5 11 62 21 34% 24%
Rodney Wallace POR 20 5 5 33 11 33% 45%
Atiba Harris COL 24 5 1 46 15 33% 33%
Deshorn Brown COL 25 7 4 83 27 33% 26%
Kei Kamara KC 15 7 2 42 13 31% 54%
Robert Earnshaw TOR 21 6 0 57 17 30% 35%
Thierry Henry NY 24 7 7 74 22 30% 32%
Will Bruin HOU 22 6 6 68 19 28% 32%
Giles Barnes HOU 25 6 3 68 18 26% 33%
Kelyn Rowe NE 25 5 7 48 12 25% 42%

What's the problem? If you're looking for that answer - I'm just a writer providing you some statistics and opinion. In other words, I don't have it.

What I can tell you is this. The technical side of Bruin's game has to improve for Houston to succeed. Bruin has to improve on that percentage of time his shots are on frame. And this is something Bruin has said in the past that he knows he needs to work on.

In an interview with MLSsoccer.com in February, Bruin talked about forgetting about his success in 2012 because it was in the past and building on his skills in 2013.

The article highlighted that here:

Doing better for Bruin is not about stats; instead it is about technique and adding to his skill-set. He's the first to admit his game is far from a finished product - his movement off the ball and his ability to hold the ball and distribute are just a few of the areas he wants to improve.

"I want to be less predictable. I know scoring goals is what you have to do, but I want to be able to go to my left more confidently," Bruin said. "I want to have a really good first touch. I want to be more explosive and make more than one or two runs in the box and get in good spots to score."

If the Dynamo are able to salvage their season and rise above the adversity, they won't do it without a goal scorer. Will Bruin has carried that load in the past and in my opinion he's the only person that can carry that load again.

There are calls to bench the striker to help clear his head and give him minutes as a substitute, but I just don't think Dominic Kinnear or the Dynamo can manage that. In no way do I want to discredit the strikers behind Bruin on the depth chart - Weaver, Ching, Johnson - but they just don't have the abilities Bruin has.

With that being said, I get the argument for giving him a mental break and letting him come off the bench for a game or two. But for me, this happened already when Bruin went to the United States Men's National Team as part of the Gold Cup.

He left his "routine" lifestyle, coach, and teammates. Sure he didn't play, but he got plenty of takeaways from the camp and walked away a champion.

Bruin is too important to the Dynamo success he can't be benched. If he was a second tier forward - like so many the Dynamo paired alongside Brian Ching in the past - I could see it.

But Bruin is a superstar (in the making). Let's not forget it's only his third season in MLS.

Right now, Houston is not in a crisis. But they're close to it. On Wednesday, they let a big chance slip away by not killing off the Columbus Crew - and Houston is better than that. They'll have to be better than that on Sunday when they face the New York Red Bulls.

Each player has to hold themselves accountable - and each other. Right now, it's the players on the field that have to win the game. Unlike 2010 when cries of a change in coaching seemed to be prevalent (and completely ridiculous), this year has been all about the players and their lack of results on the pitch at times.

If you've followed Houston for long, you know what type of coach Kinnear is. While everyone has an opinion on what should happen next with roster selections, tactics, etc., one thing is for sure - Kinnear will do what he does best - and that's put the best team on the field week after week. After that, it's up to the players to uphold their end of the bargain and perform.

In an interview with Brian Sciaretta for the New York Times, Bruin talked about Kinnear's influence on his players.

"Dom is a straight shooter," Bruin said. "He tells you what he expects of you and he expects it every day. He holds everyone to a high standard and he lets you know when you when you're not meeting it. He also lets you know when you are. If I don't score when I should or if my first touch isn't as clean as it should be, he'll let me know. He makes people accountable and that's very important."

Accountability will be key heading into the final eight games of the season. Six of those eight are against opposition sitting above the Dynamo in the Eastern Conference today.

It's a tough road ahead, but Houston has faced adversity before. History has always had an orange tint.

Keep the faith orange nation. In the Dynamo and Bruin.

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