Though they fell a little short of the ultimate prize, it's no stretch to say that the Houston Dynamo had a great level of success this past season. They successfully defended a conference title, opened a new stadium - and then proceeded to not lose a single meaningful match there - and advanced out of the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League. There are various reasons why all of this was possible: coaching, skill, and even luck, but the factor that's most important, at least in my mind, is depth.
The Dynamo have a brilliant starting XI. I doubt that there are many around the league who would argue that point. Yet when push came to shove in many competitions, it wasn't just those players who got the job done. Thankfully, the Dynamo also have a great cast of supporting players to rely on when the starters need a break - which, when you think about all the matches that a team could play over the course of a season, is a very good thing.
The MLS regular season as it stands now is a six month stretch from March to October that contains thirty-four matches. By itself, that's not too crowded, even when you take out the intermittent breaks for international play. The trick is, the league schedule never stands alone. While a team tries to navigate the league table, they're also faced with various domestic and international competitions. In the Dynamo's case, they played in both the U.S. Open Cup (losing the first match they played) and the CONCACAF Champions League.
Granted, the CCL is far from an everyday tournament, as barely a quarter of MLS teams participate, but the U.S. Open Cup is open to all, and some teams that make the CCL will not make the MLS playoffs. I think team depth has some role to play in this - once you start adding up all the competitions, a team could be playing two or three times a week, and nobody can play that often. (Lionel Messi might be able to, though the events of a few weeks ago show that isn't always the best course of action.)
The Dynamo topped Group 3 in the CCL with a 2-2-0 record, and they did this using mainly substitutes. Tyler Deric started all four group stage matches between the posts, and usual substitutes such as Cam Weaver and Colin Clark were able to see significant playing time - and in Weaver's case, he was the team's leading scorer in the competition. Giles Barnes wasn't here until late in the season, but he also saw significant playing time in the CCL once he joined the team.
The MLS playoffs were another time when the depth of the Dynamo's roster gave them a boost. After a sporadic regular season, the playoffs consist of as many as five matches over the course of eighteen days, a rate that, as we saw last month, can lead to a number of injured players over the course of a playoff run. All the teams in the playoffs struggle with this - it's mainly depth and a little bit of luck that decides which team comes out on top.
You never hope for a major injury to any player, but everyone knows they do happen. You can't stop them, so the best course of action is to make sure such an injury doesn't derail your entire season. To do that, you have to have depth. Sure, in a perfect season your team would win all the silverware and have none of the injuries, but the chances of that happening are less than me waking up to find out "Hey, Andres Iniesta seems to have ended up in Houston overnight!" (since we're talking about dreaming, I picked one I really happen to like) - it's just not going to happen, no matter how much we want it.
Luckily for us, the Dynamo seem to have had that kind of depth this season. There were fifteen players who logged more than one thousand minutes, and nineteen who appeared in ten or more matches - and that's just in MLS. They had twenty-one players appear in at least one CCL match, and seventeen of those appeared in multiple matches. Seven of those players logged less than one thousand minutes in the regular season - a good testament to the depth of the Dynamo's roster.
In the playoffs, while eight players started all six matches - four of whom played every minute of the playoffs - eighteen total players got minutes in the postseason. Aside from Warren Creavalle, all played in at least three postseason matches. When five of the six matches came over the course of a little over two and a half weeks, depth became important, and the Dynamo answered - fifteen players ended up logging the equivalent of at least one full match.
If the stats above don't translate into good news for you, think about this: only one Houston player (Colin Clark) was eligible for the MLS Re-Entry Draft (he was selected by the LA Galaxy in the second stage), and only three others (Andre Hainault, Macoumba Kandji and Weaver) have contracts that have lapsed. In addition, the team recently announced extensions for four players: Deric and core players Tally Hall, Brad Davis and Adam Moffat. They have also sent allocation money to the Portland Timbers in exchange for center back Eric Brunner. With these moves, they've not only maintained their depth, they've possibly made it even deeper: Brunner ensures the Dynamo will have defensive depth whether or not Hainault returns next season. There's also the MLS Superdraft on January 17th, and the team probably still has money left over from the transfer of Geoff Cameron to Stoke City.
With all of those pieces in place, it's no stretch to think that there might be one or two more pieces out there for Dominic Kinnear and the Dynamo front office to uncover. Every player adds to our depth. Without that depth, a team is generally forced to focus on one achievement over the course of a season. However, if you have that depth, you can conceivably focus on multiple achievements over the course of a single season. The Dynamo have already proved what can be done with depth. No, there's no silverware to solidify my argument - yet. But with this core returning, with the majority of the team's depth still in place, I can't help but think the silverware will come, too. And when it does, the Dynamo will have shown depth on a roster can lead to depth in a trophy case - and everyone will be happy with that.