Yesterday I examined the mid-season performances of the Houston Dynamo defenders in the first of three segments that looks to ultimately assess the team's performance up to this point in the season. Today we'll take a look at the 2nd chapter, the Midfield, which has seen plenty of flux in Owen Coyle's first year. The team has utilized a flat 4 midfield, a 5 man midfield with 3 central defending mids, and has seen plenty of players jump in and out of the lineup.
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 Midfield
Brad Davis (6.5) - There were offseason concerns about how much left the Dynamo Captain had in the tank and while Davis's preseason form looked to shy away those concerns, a late injury in the Carolina Challenge Cup appeared to be a setback for the Skipper. Despite lacking his usual sharpness and grit, Davis continues to prove vital to this Houston Dynamo team as he always has. His set piece delivery remains top class as he leads the team in assists and he continues to pull the strings of the Dynamo offense from midfield. Davis's form continues to improve from his early season lull and putting him anywhere near the opponent's 18 yard box is asking for a perfect cross or a curling shot. Whether or not you believe Davis has a whole lot left in him, we always know the Dynamo have a chance at goal on a corner kick with Brad Davis standing over the ball.
Oscar Boniek Garcia (6) - Boniek is not the two-way dynamic player that he was when he first dazzled in Houston. He still possesses plenty of individual skill exemplified in his brilliant dribbling abilities, bursts of speed, and pin-point passing, but he's had early difficulties connecting with other players, notably RB Kofi Sarkodie. This year Boniek has shown his abilities, but not always to great effect as the team as a whole is adjusting to life with a new coach. Lately, Boniek has found new energy and has really connected well with forward Will Bruin. Boniek is capable of being a difference maker, our X-factor, and a player that can dribble through an entire defense and drop a 30 yard pass on a dime, but he must be in rhythm with the players around him.
Luis Garrido (6.5) -Garrido initially looked sloppy in his passing and was reckless with his tackles and challenges - even in practice. Garrido would lose his starting position to Nathan Sturgis, but regain it following an injury to Sturgis. Since then he has re-seated and reestablished himself as a premier central midfielder in MLS, alongside his central partner Ricardo Clark. Garrido has improved his passing significantly since his early struggles, is currently ranked 6th in the league in intercepted passes, and has become a more composed tackler. Garrido and Clark's central tandem forces play out wide or over the top making things easier on our defense. Garrido's toughness and physicality provides the Dynamo with crucial defensive cover.
Ricardo Clark (7.5) - My early season MVP, Clark held the team together early in the season while the team came together as a unit. His quickness allows him to zip in and out of his position to quickly intercept passes, disrupt opponents' movements on the ball to allow others to make tackles or gain possession, and he's capable of making key tackles of his own. That same quickness also allows him to jumpstart a counter attack in the blink of an eye which was one of the few sources of offense early in the year for the Dynamo. Clark has truly become a midfield general and should be mentioned among the elite central midfield box-to-box players in the league as he's been utilized as a holding "shield" midfielder and as an offensive central midfielder. While Clark has not been the most consistent player on the Dynamo, removing him from the starting lineup creates a void that no other player can fill.
Nathan Sturgis (6.5) - A dark horse MVP candidate early in the season, Sturgis might be the surprise of the season. Many of us anticipated typical journeyman performances, but he's proven that he has much more to offer. Underrated is the best word that comes to mind when reflecting on Sturgis's performances. He's an underrated aerial threat, tackler, and defensive midfielder. Having a 3-headed central midfield helped the team stabilize itself early in the season and Sturgis's keen positioning, tracking, and timely goal against the LA Galaxy helped prove he had more to offer the team than that of just a reserve player. With Garrido's resurgence, it'll be hard for Sturgis to figure into a more prominent role this season, but Coyle has already given the job to Sturgis once this year - it could happen again and that wouldn't be such a bad thing.
Alexander Lopez (6) - This year Lopez was given a fresh start after not having the best relationship with former head coach Dominic Kinnear. Lopez began the new MLS season with plenty of ambition, but struggled to connect with players in a new system. However, he kept at it and Coyle was willing to experiment with Lopez who played every position ahead of holding midfielder including LM, RM, CAM, and even briefly FW. As injuries and call-ups took tolls on the Dynamo, Lopez was called into action and has proven to be the team's most accurate passer. He's shown that he is not a lost cause and can contribute as a starting player or off the bench. While I still believe he's hesitant with the ball at times and he is more times than not a defensive liability, his confidence continues to grow each game he gets under his belt and he keeps getting better. Likely to be a number 2 choice anywhere on the field, his newfound midfield versatility will guarantee him playing time nearly every match.
The Other Guys:
Rob Lovejoy (5.5) - Lovejoy brings spark to the Dynamo lineup and Coyle has entrusted a lot of confidence in the young rookie. The left winger has brought a lot of hustle which has generated results for the squad, but he still needs to continue to grow as he's prone to turnovers and getting beaten on the dribble. Lovejoy has a lot of promise and will provide plenty of energy off the bench when needed.
Leonel Miranda (4.5) - Miranda has really become a victim of lineup rotations. Naturally an outside midfielder, Alex Lopez and Lovejoy have gotten ahead of Miranda in the pecking order for the substitute/fill-in role for either Davis or Boniek. Miranda is a gifted crosser and dribbler, but his skill set looks to largely be utilized in a reserve capacity.
Zach Steinberger (N/A) - The Dynamo's top pick of this year's draft, Steinberger, a holding midfielder, has been crowded out of playing time by Clark, Garrido, and Sturgis which has reduced his playing time this season to mostly stoppage time minutes.
To Sum it up:
This midfield is still loaded with talent, the same talent as last year in fact - at least in the usual starting XI. Clark and Garrido serving as the spine of the lineup provide so much in terms of defensive cover, the team has been given time to develop an offense, which it has done. Davis and Boniek haven't started the year in terrific form, but both have looked sharper as each week has gone by. With Lopez coming into his own, Sturgis a more than capable replacement for either Clark or Garrido, and Lovejoy providing energy off the bench, this midfield has depth. When this midfield is clicking, it's a top midfield in the league capable of stopping opponent's runs centrally and transitioning a counter attack full of creative play out wide.