What an offseason! The Houston Dynamo managed to bolster a pretty effective lineup from last season, all while losing only two non-starters overseas. It is scary to consider the team can field precisely the same Starting XI as the team that made the MLS Cup, at least once Calen Carr is fully recovered from his knee surgery. Everybody say it with me now, Damn the Gals!
Yet, the team was not content to rest on their laurels, and we all owe Chris Canetti a nice big birthday cake when the day rolls around this year. (If anyone happens to know when his birthday is, I really do think we should consider a cake or at least some orange icing cookies) I present a quick rundown of the moves:
- The team acquired Eric Brunner after, I presume, they were informed Hainault would not be returning.
- The team acquired Omar Cummings as depth and coverage while Calen Carr rehabs his knee. Some still debate whether this can be seen as upgrade over previous depth, Macoumda Kandji. (Spoiler alert: I think he is)
- The team drafted Jason Johnson with their first round draft pick. Johnson provides youth, pace and depth for our forwards.
- The team then proceeded to draft Jimmy Nealis with their second round pick. Nealis provides youth and depth for our outside back positions. While he is most comfortable at left back, he actually can play right back as well.
- The team picked up an unemployed Mike Chabala, who like Nealis provides much-needed depth behind ailing Corey Ashe.
- The team acquired Andrew Driver from Heart of Midlothian FC from the Scottish Premier League. Driver is the x-factor of the offseason more than any other move the team made, at least in my personal opinion. We know he is capable and willing, but it is a matter of how those two will translate to MLS and the sweltering Houston summer.
Damn, I'm winded just talking about their moves this offseason. I think most of us expected them to remain relatively quiet, making a couple of moves, but nothing major. I guess we can assume we were wrong?
So with all of these moves, Head Coach Dominic Kinnear is now faced with how to best utilize each player tactically, while still providing opportunities for growth. Let's be honest, is there another coach in this league you would want in this position? I think most fans, even those of other teams, would actually give it thought because Dom is that damn good.
Flexibility in Formations
The first and most important factor coming into this season is the flexibility Kinnear has with formations based on player personnel. Prior to last season, we could wager pretty confidently Dom would trot out the tried and true 4-4-2. Then, last season, with the personnel Dom brought us a breath of fresh air and whipped out a pleasantly surprising 4-3-3. It was effective, for the most part, and saw a sort of transformation in the team's style of play. What had been essentially push the ball down the flanks, cross it into the box, and let a forward put his head to the ball, had turned into something far more finesse than curve or strength.
Now, with the season fast upon us, Dom has the opportunity to really tinker with the formation and lineup. For one of the first times in a truly long time, the personnel available and depth they provide allow him to simply play chess. He can matchup and counter opposing coaches opening moves, and do so confident in the abilities of those stepping onto the pitch in the stead of the starters.
When your substitutes could be starters for other teams, you usually stand a good chance of beating the other team into attrition. Especially in MLS. Especially in Houston. Especially in our home.
Looking at the Formations
So what exactly would a 4-4-2 look like with our current personnel?
The possibilities are pretty open, really. You could start with Cummings and Bruin up top. Omar Cummings provides pace, first touch, ability on the ball and 1 v 1, as well as vision to get the ball to an open man. Will Bruin is well, Will Bruin. Need I say more?
Your midfield can shift from a diamond for use of the wingers and an attacking midfielder, to a box with two wingers and two defensive midfielders. Really, Dom's options are quite open with the personnel available. So let's say he trots out a traditional starting midfield of Brad Davis, Giles Barnes, Ricardo Clark and Boniek Garcia. Nobody would question those four starting, but let's say the team is facing a more attack-minded midfield.
This is where we can all salivate over the option to swap Barnes for Adam Moffat or even Luis Camargo. You can easily go from balanced to attack-minded to defense-minded midfield simply by swapping out your AVAILABLE personnel. In the current FIFA games, you'd destroy your opposition. Oh, don't let me forget giving Davis a rest by bringing in Andy Driver on the wing to torch weakened defenses. Just imagine a well-rested Brad Davis come playoff time. I pity the fool.
Oh, but we're still only in a 4-4-2, and we haven't even touched on the back four! You still have the option of going Bobby Boswell and Jermaine Taylor in the center with Ashe and Sarkodie manning the flanks. But what if you are facing a team with very pacey forwards? Well, let's swap Boswell for Eric Brunner. Suddenly, your center backs have more spring in their step and are able to keep pace. That's just mean, guys. Just outright mean.
And don't get me started and swapping out Chabala for Ashe when he gets tired. Chabala has a damn good service into the box, and when a defense is tired? Honestly, it's just unfair.
So, hahaha, now that you are sitting there salivating over a 4-4-2, what about a 4-3-3?
Now, you throw out Driver, Bruin, and Cummings up top. Uh, yeah. What was that Mr. Opposing Coach? That shouldn't be allowed? The Dynamo Front Office needs to be named Front Office of the Year now, just so the other offices can quit trying to keep pace. Hint: It's impossible to keep pace with this Front Office.
So your midfield could easily be Davis, Clark, and Garcia. Davis and Garcia start on the wings, and Clark plays a defensive midfielder role. Or you could swap out Rico and put in Camargo or Moffat. Depth, it is a killer of teams without it.
Your back four stay essentially the same as before, though maybe you keep Boswell in for his strength in defense with Rico on the pitch in front of him.
And now I hear you saying, but wait, surely with the personnel, we could run a 4-5-1 or a 4-2-1-2-1 or something to utilize all of that midfield gooeyness? Well, dear reader and fellow lover of the Orange, you would be right.
A 4-5-1 could have Bruin up top, Driver on the left, Davis just inside Driver, Clark or Moffat in the defensive midfielder role, Barnes on the inside right, and Garcia on the outside right. I think I already hear the opposing coaches now, "I want my Mommy!"
And yet again, your defense still remains essentially the same.
A 4-2-1-2-1 could have Bruin up top, Driver and Garcia out wide, Davis or Barnes in a modified central attacking mid role, backed up by any combination of Rico, Moffat or Camargo.
And yet again, the defense remains virtually untouched.
What does all of this mean?
At the end of the day, as the season draws ever closer (one week, baby!), Dominic Kinnear has an absolute plethora of options available to him both with formation and personnel. He can mix and match, tinker and tool. Truly, Dom has the option to do whatever in the hell he chooses with this team.
Oh, did I forget to mention I didn't use Calen Carr or Jason Johnson at all? It was intentional.
This is Dom and Canetti's world. We're all just living in it.