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Solving the Houston Center Back Conundrum

After an inconsistent defensive season, who would make the ideal center back pairing to iron out Houston's back line? Review the candidates and leave your opinion.

Eric Brunner fit to solve the center back riddle Houston faces
Eric Brunner fit to solve the center back riddle Houston faces
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Solving the Houston Center Back Conundrum

In the 2013 season, our center back line up was carved in stone. Head Coach Dominic Kinnear played the dynamic duo of Jermaine Taylor and veteran Bobby Boswell faithfully with little variation.

Since then, Houston has cycled through various pairings with varied success. Houston has struggled defensively in the 2014 season. Not all of this is to be placed on the shoulders of the defense. The team has labored under numerous injuries and international call ups, often being forced to rely on an extremely young and often untested bench. Nevertheless, Houston is experimenting to address the inconsistency in the back line. Which of these options would form the ideal pairing?

It all began when Taylor suffered an injury in his foot during the 2013 playoffs that left him in recovery for quite some time. Eric Brunner, acquired from the Portland Timbers, stepped into his shoes. Brunner played the remainder of the playoffs with great success, shutting down numerous attacks on goal during the crucial period.

Then came the reentry draft, when Houston lost Bobby Boswell to D.C. United after electing not to pick up his contract for the 2014 season. This left an ominous question mark looming over the back line, which had been filled by Boswell for so long. Once again, Houston turned to the Portland Timbers, and picked up David Horst.

The Center Back Candidates

Kinnear has experimented in the 2014 season, rotating veterans with rookies to deal with injuries and a sluggish 2014 record. Which of these will form the "set in stone" pairing that Houston can rely on faithfully?

Jermaine Taylor is the tenured Houston center back. This Jamaican native started with Houston in 2011 and is a fixture of the Jamaican National Team. At 5’10, Jermaine does not have the height of his fellow center backs, but he more than makes up for it in muscle. Taylor often relies on his physical prowess to hammer his way through the game and he boasts the cards to prove it. Taylor leads the Dynamo with six cautions, twice that of the players who place second in the same category. Although he played 26 games in the 2012 and 2013 season, Taylor seems to lack the consistency of his previous seasons.

Eric Brunner, 28, is one of the few players on the team that boasts the same head height as Tally Hall. Standing 6’4 and 170 pounds, Brunner excels in his ability to read the game and communicate. He started all playoff games for Houston in 2013 and seemed a shoe in for the 2014 starting lineup. Brunner suffered a major setback in the preseason, suffering an ankle injury that required surgery. He resumed play in June.

David Horst, former teammate of Brunner while on the Timbers, has stepped into the enforcer role that Boswell vacated. Horst was picked up from Portland after having sustained an injury in his right leg, ironically against Houston. Horst started the 2014 season strong, providing a dazzling combination of fiery temper and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Most notably, Horst provided a goal line save that would make Kofi Sarkodie proud. The save came against LA Galaxy, denying AJ DeLaGarza a brilliant shot that had escaped Tally Hall. The save cleared the way for a victory against the Galaxy. Horst is simply massive at 6’4, 210 pounds. Like Taylor, he is extremely physical and is often seen towering over the faces of opponents during disputes.

AJ Cochran is the wildcard amongst the center backs. 21 years old, Cochran was acquired in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft from the University of Wisconsin. He has started six games this year, pairing up with Horst. Cochran has been compared to the likes of Eddie Robinson in his playing style and temperament. Despite his rookie status, he plays with composure and a keen awareness of his role.

Rounding out the candidates is Anthony Arena, who has spent a good deal of this year loaned out to Houston’s affiliate team, the Pittsburgh River Hounds. The 23 year old has logged 70 minutes on the field for Houston. He is unlikely to figure into Kinnear’s plans in solidifying the back line, leaving Taylor, Brunner, Horst and Cochran as the most likely candidates.

Horst and Brunner the Most Viable Pairing?

Chemistry is an undeniably viable and ethereal part of the beautiful game. Who has it and how does it develop amongst existing players? It is difficult to build chemistry between four players when two are newly acquired.

The players, then, with the most experience playing as a pair are Brunner and Horst. The two played together under the Portland Timbers, starting in the 2011 and 2012 seasons. The combination of Brunner’s tactical ability to read the game and Horst’s commanding physical presence are a one-two punch that has not been fully utilized under the Houston Dynamo, for various reasons. Brunner’s recovery from ankle surgery and Horst’s groin strain have been factors in how infrequently we have seen the two friends paired this year.

Their chemistry, rooted in their time together as Timbers, may be what Houston needs to spark our defensive efforts. That, in combination with DaMarcus Beasley’s surprising addition to the Houston Dynamo roster in exchange for Warren Creavalle would go a long way to make Houston a much livelier contender for the Cup, even this late in the season.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Leave your opinion on who you would like to see in the center back position in the comment section below.