The Houston Dynamo have a few new faces around this year as the players acquired in the SuperDraft and the Re-Entry Draft along with other recently signed players have begun showing Dynamo head coach Owen Coyle their craft following their first week of training.
There's a lot to take away from week 1 of practice and plenty to keep in mind as we all make our early evaluations on player performances. Last Saturday's scrimmage really illuminated a lot about the kinds of players that the Dynamo have just picked up. My initial impressions are very positive about the players and the work that they've put in. Here are a few quick thoughts about some of the new players the Dynamo may use this coming season.
1) Chandler Hoffman (Forward) was the most dangerous player for the Dynamo in the scrimmage. He obviously has more to lose by putting in a poor performance than say, Brad Davis, but Hoffman really showed flashes of what he can bring to the table. First, his movements off the ball were brilliant. He would disappear and lose his man and then re-appear on a breakaway, which also highlights another quality of his: speed. He's not only fighting for a spot on the team, but for quality minutes as well.
2) Raúl Rodríguez (Central Defender) plays in central defense with a lot of intelligence. He's very patient with the ball and often calls for the ball to come back, but it's all to exploit holes in the midfield and to maintain possession. Rodríguez is fluent in Spanish, but knows enough English to be able to effectively communicate amongst all teammates which eases his transition into the squad. He uses his length for both speed and strength very effectively while defending and, oh, he tried a bicycle kick - that's right, a CB tried to bike kick.
3) Oumar Ballo (Central Defender) has a bright future ahead of him. Ballo up close is intimidating as his size alone, both height and strength, is enough to daunt opposing players. He's a very smart passer, he's strong in the air, and has shown a penchant for moving into the attack.
4) Zach Steinberger (Midfielder) - In Basketball there are players that often get labeled "cutters" or "slashers". These are players that cut or drive their way inside to get to the basket and for whatever reason the term feels appropriate for Steinberger. He's creative, but has shown a knack for preferring the direct route to the goal at times whether that's beating an opponent on the dribble and finding space, or picking out a player ahead with one of his great passes which impressed Coyle at the MLS Combine.
5) Leonel Miranda (Midfielder/Winger) is a type of player that could be a game changer late in games. He brings a lot of pace and creativity to the group and was really the glue of the team he was on while he played. Miranda is another player that is adept at set piece situations and can swing the ball in or beat goalkeepers with precision. While Brad Davis is still the man to beat when it comes to service, it's always good to have options for dead ball scenarios.
6) Rob Lovejoy (Forward/Midfielder) didn't look quite as comfortable as some of the other new arrivals, but his work rate impressed me tremendously. If he played an errant pass, he would fight and win that ball back for his team.
7) Taylor Hunter (Defender/Midfielder) looked very comfortable playing at this level and looked at ease in the defense and higher up the pitch. He didn't see a lot of playing time overall, but his touches looked good as did his passing into the midfield.
8) Joe Willis (Goalkeeper) is pretty tough to judge seeing as goalkeeper drills really test reflexes and neither team threatened the goal often during the scrimmage. However, in the scrimmage Willis positioned himself very well and was vocal with his defensive unit. While he's still learning names, he still found ways to get the attention of those in front of him and listen to what he had to say. While I think that incumbent first team goalkeeper Tyler Deric is probably the #1 choice for this season, Willis will challenge for the position and he provides the Dynamo with an excellent goalkeeper tandem.
There is still a lot of time before the season starts and competition for positions will continue to heat up until then. My early impressions so far are very positive though everyone has a bit of learning to do, new and old players alike, as they adjust to Owen Coyle's system.