The other day I examined the mid-season ratings of the Houston Dynamo midfielders in the second of three segments that wants to ultimately assess the team's performance up to this point in the season. Today we'll take a look at the 3rd and final chapter, the Forwards, which has pretty much been only Will Bruin and Giles Barnes 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. Playing time
Houston Dynamo Mid-Season Ratings: The Forwards
Giles Barnes (7) - For early stretches of the season, Giles Barnes was THE offensive focal point. Everything went through him while he was utilized in an unfamiliar center forward role, which he struggled with from time to time. However, as the defense and midfield settled in, he came alive and found several ways to create offense and score goals. Barnes is a threat from set pieces and our main man on those, Brad Davis, has even yielded to Barnes on occasion to great effect. Barnes is also very good at taking the ball to the goalkeeper's end line and either waiting to pass or send the ball in or forcing a corner kick by playing the ball off an opposing player. What continues to impress me about Barnes is how he grows and changes with the game. Naturally a center midfielder, Barnes has played largely forward for the Dynamo both in a line tandem with Bruin and in a withdrawn role, but he's shown he's more than capable of playing wherever coaches need him.
Will Bruin (7) - I won't say that Bruin or his impressive and still-going scoring streak is the cause of the Dynamo really coming together, but the two are existing at the same time. Bruin has scored 6 goals in the last 5 games while the Dynamo record in that time is 3-1-1 (The Dynamo overall record is 5-5-5). Will Bruin struggled to adjust early in the year, but as the team has grown, so has he. He's a much stronger passer than he used to be, his decision making around the 18 yard box is better, and he's confident and taking shots -which are going in. Bruin's scoring got hot at the perfect time as Giles Barnes departed with the Jamaican National Team. Bruin had to fight for his spot back into the lineup and it's now his spot to lose, and that should be true when Cubo arrives.
Chandler Hoffman (N/A) - It's been tough for Chandler Hoffman this year. Early in the year when the Dynamo played with only 1 forward, it was incredibly tough for Hoffman to break into the lineup. Owen Coyle experimented with Alex Lopez at FW, he's brought in Rob Lovejoy over him, and now with Cubo nearly here it will be even more difficult. Hoffman brings it to practice and helps push his teammates. He's quick and makes dangerous runs look easy and hopefully we'll see more of Hoffman this year, because he's worked hard for it.
Coach Owen Coyle (6.5) - Coyle and the club have played at about our expectations as fans, probably a little above that level - in terms of results. The surprising part about this season is the effort displayed. Earlier in the year when we played a 5 man midfield with 3 central defending midfielders, we thought this was the end and that we would play for "road draws". That turned out to not be true. The team played hard and began to win. Coyle recognized that the defense needed confidence and that the offense needed time. From there the team evolved into an offensive firepower as Giles Barnes and Will Bruin both have found their shooting stroke. What impresses me most about Coyle is how he inspires his players. He's willing to shake lineups around to get players in games that have been working hard and he understands players' frustrations when they aren't getting time. Coyle has done a terrific job so far and the team is really coming into its own now. Could we be doing better? Sure, we're not in a playoff position at the moment, but we're not far out of one in the extremely difficult Western Conference.
To Sum it up:
Owen Coyle promised an attacking team and we are currently tied for 3rd in goals finished so far this year. That really speaks to how this team and its forwards have stepped up their game. By scoring as often as they do, pressure is taken off the defense which actually gives the team more confidence in the back and up top. It's really been a long ride since the beginning of the season where Bruin started and then was dropped from the starting lineup, Barnes played a variety of roles, and then we settled into a lineup with the two in a different formation - with Barnes withdrawn. The evolution has been slow, but as it stands we've found a nice formula. Things will change when Cubo Torres arrives, but with plenty of flexibility amongst our players and our forward line, the club has potential to move up from 3rd in scoring.