As the MLS regular season inches closer to the midway mark, it's time that we take a look and evaluate early performances through Owen Coyle's first year as Coach for our Houston Dynamo. As there has been plenty of experimentation by Owen Coyle with his lineups early into his tenure as Coach, I've decided to split this project into 3 parts: defense, the midfield, and the forwards. The last part will include a grade for Owen Coyle and an opportunity to vote for the team's MVP up to this point in the season.
These ratings are not a summation of my usual player ratings following games, though they do take them into account. Rather, this focuses on overall performances and how players have contributed to the development of the team under Coyle.
Houston Dynamo Mid-Season Ratings: The Defense
Tyler Deric (7) - Early into the season, Tyler Deric's heroics were one of the largest contributing factors to how the Dynamo escaped teams with points. The team hadn't developed an offense, struggled to possess the ball, and was susceptible to an onslaught of shots by opponents. Enter Tally Hall's protégé. Deric's outstanding reflexes, athleticism, and positioning have helped him capture the "Save of the Week" title 3 times and he's been nominated several more weeks than just the 3 weeks that he's won. At times, Deric has struggled to command his line which has proven especially true over the last few weeks as the team has come together on the offensive front. Yes, Deric is a keeper that thrives in intense pressure which is the trait of a great player. However, maintaining his focus throughout the 90 minutes is something that he still needs to develop. There's no doubt about it that Deric is a top keeper in this league with room to grow.
Kofi Sarkodie (5.5) - Sarkodie remains one of the best defenders on the team, but has been pushed out of the starting XI due to strategy and perhaps a little due to lacking performances against San Jose and FC Dallas. Sarkodie began the year, and first 10 games, at right back, but has fallen out of favor the last 5 matches to CB/RB Raúl Rodríguez in order to pair David Horst and Jermaine Taylor in central defense. This tactic has largely proven effective as the Dynamo have put together a 3-1-1 record since Sarkodie was benched. Still, Sarkodie's ability to get forward and provide timely crosses and lockdown defending provide the Dynamo bench with plenty of depth. Perhaps the rating is a tad unfair, but as it stands now the team has developed well with him sitting on the outside looking in.
Jermaine Taylor (6) - Inconsistent is a word that I'd use to describe Taylor's overall performance. He's become an expert at picking off errant passes, he does well to defend against crosses and aerial threats, and he commands and communicates from the back better than any other defender - at least in my opinion. He's also prone to being caught off guard, over committing, and turnovers in poor areas of the field. Taylor hasn't been a marquee player for the squad, and you don't often see people claiming to be "huge Jermaine Taylor fans", but he does a lot of work that still deserves recognition.
David Horst (7) - Began the year as a bench player and has since risen to become a prominent fixture on the Dynamo backline. Horst doesn't play the most attractive brand of defending, and at times he's been overzealous with his challenges, but he's become a much cooler customer this year than he has been in the past. Aside from his big tackles, monster aerial statistics, and his huge number of clearances, Horst has proven to be reliable in big moments, notably: an assist against New York City FC in which he headed a corner kick down to Bruin while being held, he would've earned a game tying penalty kick against the LA Galaxy if the ball were placed at the spot of the foul, and he came up with a big goal line save on Bradley Wright-Phillips against the New York Red Bulls.
DaMarcus Beasley (6.5) - The longtime US National Team member has quietly put together consistently strong outings. Beasley hasn't been a game changing player for the Dynamo in the way that Horst has become this year, but the left side of the field is seldom a reason for concern for the Dynamo defense. The LB utilizes his speed to intercept passes and position himself to make key tackles while also gifting him opportunities to advance forward up the field, often on individual runs through the opponent's midfield and defense. His intelligence and experience, coupled with his partnership with former USMNT players Brad Davis and Ricardo Clark, creates accurate 1-2 passing which often opens up a player further down the field and establishes crossing opportunities for the offense. At times Beasley is caught too high up the field following a turnover, but his speed and partnership with Jermaine Taylor often negate many of these threats by opponents.
Raúl Rodríguez (7) - The center back turned right back has proven to be one of the better offseason acquisitions in recent memory. He reads the game very well, is an exceptional passer, possesses strong dribbling abilities for a defender, has strength in the air which he used to score a goal against Sporting Kansas City, and is a great 1v1 defender. For all his individual talents, at times his positioning with other defenders is off and he sometimes is late to close space on players over the ball. These times are few and far between and he's generally provided seemingly acrobatic challenges for the ball and forced opponents to take difficult shots due to his excellent vision and positioning.
To Sum it up:
Overall, the defense has played well this season despite possessing a defense ranked towards the bottom in the league. As Owen Coyle noted in a post game press conference, if you take away the freak game that was the 4-4 Sporting Kansas City match and a poor 4-1 loss to FC Dallas, this team has one of the top defenses in the league (and he's right). Early in the season the defense utilized, and many could argue relied, on the 5 man midfield consisting of 3 defensive central midfielders, but it has since evolved beyond that. This is a very different and superior defense than the one that began the season and very little has changed in the makeup of that defense.
The intelligence and veteran experience on the outside backs along with the strength and aerial abilities in the central defense make this a tough team to break down. Throw in Tyler Deric's reflexes and athleticism and this is a very good defense. At times, mistakes will happen and there will be bumps in the road like the FC Dallas game, but those represent outliers and will help the team grow moving forward in the next half of the season.