It's that time of year again. In about sixty hours, the Houston Dynamo will host the New England Revolution at BBVA Compass Stadium in the 2014 season opener for both teams. Once again, the expectations on the shoulders of every member of the Dynamo organization are high - will this be the year that they finally live up to or exceed them? Is there anything to be worried about?
Possibly and yes. We'll start with the worries, as I think explaining those will make the other a little easier. The big one is the lack of any big name additions over the offseason. Yes, they re-signed Andrew Driver - and I still consider that a coup, though not as much as I originally thought it would be - but when that's your marquee move, it's asking for disgruntled fans. We've seen the league make some upgrades across the board these past few months. Michael Bradley, Jermaine Defoe, and Dwayne De Rosario are now with Toronto. Davy Arnaud, Fabian Espindola, Eddie Johnson, and others bring a whole new look to DC United. Teal Bunbury is now playing for New England. Maurice Edu is plying his trade in Philadelphia. And that's just in the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile, the Dynamo re-signed Andrew Driver, picked up David Horst, got Tony Cascio on loan, and drafted A.J. Cochran, Michael Lisch, and Mark Sherrod. That's it. Impressed with that list? If not, you're not alone. Glenn Davis touched on it in an interview with ESPN 97.5's A.J. Hoffman and Fred Faour Tuesday night - the lack of big signings this offseason has many fans aggravated, especially when viewed against the backdrop of the Bradley, Defoe, and Edu signings.
However, Glenn then made another point that sometimes is lost. The Dynamo have had success over their short history without big signings. Players like Brad Davis, Boniek Garcia, and Giles Barnes might not be the biggest names, but they're still solid players who can beat the opposition any given night. To top it all off, Dominic Kinnear still mans the helm in Houston. His teams aren't always flashy, and they're often noted as not very pretty, but they also get the job done when it counts. Big names don't necessarily mean big results - sometimes, they mean big headaches instead. When all is said and done, I'm willing to take my chances with a Dominic Kinnear-coached squad.
A corollary to the lack of big signings is the fact that a forward corps that was decidedly lackluster last season is now even less loaded than last year. Brian Ching has retired. Calen Carr and Cam Weaver didn't have their contracts renewed. So who does that leave the Dynamo up front? Omar Cummings, who had a huge postseason, but was injured most of the regular season. Jason Johnson, last year's first round draft pick, who has seen just over seven hours of playing time and recorded a single goal. Bryan Salazar, a homegrown player who has yet to see the pitch. The above-mentioned Mark Sherrod, who signed his first professional contract about a week ago. And the biggest question mark of the group: Will Bruin, the Dancing Bear who followed a remarkable 2012 season with a decidedly lackluster 2013.
Not to sound overly melodramatic, but I think that the Dynamo's season could hinge on which Bruin we see. Either his 2012 was a fluke, or his 2013 was. It's going to be one or the other, and I think every single Dynamo fan is hoping and praying that it's the latter. His postseason aside, we still don't really know what we're getting with Omar Cummings, and the other three options are young and untested. Last year, the Dynamo's leading scorer was Barnes, who played out of position for most of the season. I'm not sure the Dynamo can afford to do that again this year - which means that someone up front has to step up, and most Dynamo fans will tell you that that person has to be Will Bruin. He's coming into his fourth year in the league, and he still has everything to prove. He doesn't necessarily have to set the league scoring record - he just needs to find whatever groove he had two years ago and stick with it.
This is, of course, a World Cup year. The hit the Dynamo will take come June and July won't be as bad as it could be, but we'll still be losing Boniek, as well as possibly Brad Davis. Luckily, the roster is fairly stacked in the midfield. We have Barnes and Driver. Ricardo Clark was a stabilizing presence last season. Alex Lopez is making DP money and came into Houston last year riding a lot of hype. Tony Cascio has shown promise, and Servando Carrasco will have an understudy role with Rico as a mentor. Warren Creavalle is ready to be freed, and I'm sure that Brian Ownby would relish a chance to prove himself worthy of a bigger role.
All of them will have to step up with Boniek (and Davis, if he's called) gone. And that, of course, doesn't take injuries into consideration - and there was rarely a time last season that this roster was injury-free. Taking away two of those players does enough damage to the squad - anything more, and you have to seriously doubt that the players left could pick up enough slack to keep the Dynamo in the mix. Anything's possible, of course - but that doesn't mean that I want them to brazenly tempt Fate like that.
The back line is a work in progress. Sure, Corey Ashe is solid and still growing, and talk says that Kofi Sarkodie could be one breakout year away from a national team call. But with Jermaine Taylor coming off injury and David Horst and Eric Brunner battling for the other centerback spot - with only draftee A.J. Cochran behind them, it's unclear just how solid that back four will be. Tally Hall is an above average keeper (and a constant snub on the US national team roster), but he's not going to be able to do it all without help. Maybe Mike Chabala will be re-signed to provide a bit more cover back there (I haven't heard anything one way or the other), but it's clear that the back line will have to step up if the Dynamo are to contend.
So knowing all this, I have to ask: do you think it's time to slam that orange panic button? Prognosticators among Dynamo fans and commentators are saying the season will be everything from our wildest dreams to our worst nightmares. Personally, I tend to lean towards the dreams - but then, I've always tried my best to be an optimist. If you want to spread the doom and gloom, I won't stop you - after all, there are plenty of ways this season could end up as a dumpster fire, comparable in infamy only to 2010.
But it could also turn out wonderfully. There may not have been many additions, but that's because the majority of the pieces are already in place. A few changes - one or two players stepping up, for example - and the Dynamo could be right there at the pinnacle when the season ends. Granted, a lot of things have to go right (and they rarely do, it seems), but the signs are there.
Either way, I'm not about to give up on this season before it even starts. I'm not sure this will end in glory, but I have a better feeling about it not ending in horror. So get amped up, y'all - the Dynamo are back, and hope springs eternal.
Don't panic yet. We're just getting started.