I had a sobering experience earlier today. I was browsing the Soccernet website in preparation for the EPL kick-off this weekend and went to do my regular MLS reading. In catching up with the league (I've admittedly taken a bit of a break post-World Cup), I checked the standings. Then, I hit refresh to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.
I think we all knew this season was gong to be difficult. It's tough to lose the center of your midfield to Europe and keep the play on the field at such a high level. The early loss of Geoff Cameron cemented, in my opinion, the struggles to come. Not to discount the possibility of a run into and through the playoff - the remainder of our schedule is much easier - but I don't think it'd hurt to turn our attention to 2011.
With that in mind, join me after the jump for a look ahead at 2011, the questions that need answering, and the possibilities before us.
I'll start at the back and work my way forward.
Goalkeeping: As much as we may want to believe it, Pat Onstad is not immortal. It's been a blessing to have one of the finest keepers ever to grace MLS anchoring our defense, but he wont play forever, and I'd like the future to emerge sooner rather than later. As Ginge has mentioned, it's great that Tally Hall is getting playtime now. From what I've seen, Hall has the raw talent and natural ability to be a good MLS keeper. The mistakes I've witnessed are the sort of thing that playtime, experience, and coaching can iron out. I'm optimistic about Hall.
I'm not sure what Onstad's plans are for the future, but I believe it'd be in the teams best interest for The Dom to approach him and make it clear Hall needs to have significant playing time. In my perfect world, Pat spends a year sharing time or even backing up Hall, helping him develop. I rate Tyler Deric and I think he has a place on the Dynamo, but I'm not ready for Hall-Deric 2011.
And even if Onstad isn't there, this past offseason showed it's possible to get a Jon Busch off the street. All in all, I'm feeling good about the keeper situation in 2011.
Defense: Riddle me this: when was the last time the Dynamo/San Jose were in the bottom three of goals allowed? Who guessed 1997? You're all liars. And yet, that's where the Dynamo find themselves this season. I realize the schedule is unbalance right now with a number of teams having played fewer games. But this is worrying. The Dynamo are consistently defensively sound and to compete in 2011 we're going to have to fix the leak and stop shipping goals. Was the loss of Wade Barrett that devastating?
A look at the roster does not ease my concerns. The youngest player listed is Andrew Hainault at 24. Eddie Robinson and Craig Waibel have been class players for a long time, but they're both into their 30s. I still rate Bobby Boswell and think he's a good presence in the middle, but he needs a good partner. An infusion of youth would also help a great deal. Hainault and Mike Chabala are serviceable defenders, but the lack of depth is worrying, which means some offseason retooling in the back is a must for the Dynamo.
Midfield: Where to begin? There's a lot of talent floating around the midfield and, frankly I'm encouraged. Finding the right combination is The Dom's challenge. The questions here are the sort I like having to ask. What can we expect from youngsters Danny Cruz and Francisco Navas Cobo? Both are clearly skilled, having seen time with the youth national team and the Dynamo first team (Cruz in particular). And in the case of Navas Cobo, it's telling that he earned a professional contract at 18. That said, youth has its perils, and I'm not sure how much we'll be able to rely on them next year.
This in no way suggests the cupboard is bare. I like what I've seen of Lovel Palmer and think he's feisty, aggressive, and not afraid to shoot (though I'd like a few more goals). Brad Davis is an all-star, and I see him prowling the wings for a few more seasons to come. Cory Ashe is a great burst of pace off the bench, and the venerable duo Mulrooney and Mullan serve as the sort of veteran presence I consider crucial.
And then there's Geoff Cameron. My opinion may diverge with many at this juncture. I don't like Cameron as a CAM. I think his best role is that of a deep lying holding/defensive midfielder. The 2009 season proved he's got the defensive chops to cut it, and his brief time in the midfield showed he can go forward. But I have trouble seeing him as the sort of creator Dwayne DeRosario or Super Stewart Holden proved to be. I'd rather he sat back, won the ball, made the smart pass, and got it to more creative players going forward. He's got a boot on him, and Clark showed a more defensive-minded midfielder can pop up and belt in the occasional screamer. It's not as if he'd be offensively-neutered in this role. To me, Cameron would best serve the Dynamo as a more technically proficient Rico.
All in all, things aren't too bad in the midfield. Up top however...
Attack: Give me just a moment. I need to compose myself.
Ok let's start with the good. Like between the pipes, we as Dynamo fans have had the pleasure of watching one of the finest strikers ever to play in MLS spearhead the frontline. Brian Ching is the face of the Dynamo. Sadly, like Pat, Ching wont be playing forever. And it's apparent that, while he still bangs them in, he's on the downside of his career. Which leads me to...
Well, nothing, to be honest. Because we have nothing up top. Look me in the eyes and tell me Dominic Oduro and Cam Weaver are the future. You can't. I'm over our on-again, off-again relationship with the flakey Jospeh Ngwenya, and we're not even going to think about the pudgy pile of fail that was Luis Landin.
Do you know how many goals the abovementioned three (remember, Landin never existed) have combined for this season in league play? Four. Added to Ching's three, our strikers have scored seven goals this season. Seven. That's not even a third of our goals. For comparison, Edson Buddle has twelve. Sebastian Le Toux has nine! Sebastian Le Toux! And he's on a rubbish Philadelphia Union side.
This should be The Dom's most important focus in the offseason. We need a striker. Someone that just puts the ball in the net. The service is there, our midfield has the talent, but holy hell do we need a striker. I imagine the front office will be reluctant to consider a DP after the Landin experiment, but this simply has to be addressed for the Dynamo to have any hope in 2011.
Management: The Dynamo suffered two major losses in management this past year. The most obvious was the loss of longtime Dynamo assistant John Spencer to the upstart Portland Timbers. Frankly, I think we were lucky to hold on to him as long as we did. And I'm genuinely excited about Steve Ralston. He was a consummate professional, and under the tutelage of The Dom and alongside Captain Barrett, I believe he'll fit in nicely with this coaching staff.
The other loss was, of course, Oliver Luck, who left to become Athletic Director at his alma mater West Virginia. Luck was a steady and intelligent presence at the top who crafted the Dynamo into a first class organization. He is missed, but the organization has continued forward rather nicely.
Luck's legacy continues, so far as I can tell, and with a stadium on the horizon the future looks bright. So long as the Dynamo remain in the capable hands of The Dom and the surrounding management team, I am optimistic and encouraged. You need look no further than Minute Maid Park to see what can happen to a poorly run franchise.
I'll still be cheering at the top of my lungs for the remainder of 2010, but I also think it's worth sneaking a peek at the future.
What say you, Dynamo fans? Agree? Disagree? Concerns? Questions? Have at in the comments!