Finally, the 2016 MLS season looks to be coming into focus. Preseason games are just a week away, the SuperDraft is over and the Houston Dynamo's roster seems at least close to full. New players like Cristian Maidana, Jalil Anibaba and Andrew Wenger will enter the fray while others will look to replace a legend, Brad Davis. No playoffs in three years won't be acceptable, so it will certainly be an interesting season.
But we'll just have to wait. While we do that, here are five storylines to watch for the Dynamo as teams report to training camp:
5. Brad Davis's replacement
This, of course, is a very prevailing topic of conversation for the Dynamo. Davis was a consistent starter for a decade, but now with him off to Sporting KC, he will have to be replaced. Wenger, acquired alongside Maidana from the Philadelphia Union in January, will most likely get plenty of chances to prove himself on the wing, but, depending on the formation, we could see Giles Barnes, Alex Lima or Leonel Miranda as well.
It all depends on how coach Owen Coyle sees things. Whoever performs the best–in his eyes–over the next two or three months will get the majority of minutes at the position. Then again, it's possible we could see a platoon sort of system, where a series of players each get close to an even amount of time on the field.
4. The Cubo Torres conundrum
Erick Torres undeniably had a rough season last year. He's 23 with lot's of time to grow, but he experienced some setbacks in 2015. Not scoring a goal in 11 appearances wouldn't exactly be considered a great campaign.
But with his indisputable potential and possible future role with the Mexican national team, his stock both within MLS and internationally is fairly high. The Dynamo could get some nice cash should they decide to sell him. If they were to do that, the decision would have to come soon, so these first couple weeks of training and preseason games will be crucial for Torres's career in Houston.
3. Young players
There are multiple younger players who could get more time with the first team in 2016, such as Mauro Manotas, Taylor Hunter, Memo Rodriguez and Rob Lovejoy. The draft picks, Ivan Magalhães and T.J. Casner, will likely spend a lot of time with USL affiliate Rio Grande Valley FC, along with homegrown signing Cristian Lucatero and former Pittsburgh Riverhounds goalkeeper Calle Brown.
A lot of these players will get chances to impress in the preseason. Whether or not they get regular season action depends on how they perform in February.
2. Any more moves?
It has been a fairly eventful offseason for the Dynamo. They acquired depth on the wings, a starting-caliber center-back, an elite chance creator and younger players with potential, as well as letting a series of veteran guys go. But it's not over, so we could still see some moves made.
Central midfield should be shored up, as Luis Garrido and Nathan Sturgis had their options declined, and full-back could use more depth, with Kofi Sarkodie likely to leave and DaMarcus Beasley's advanced age. If Coyle were to perform any more transactions, they would have to come soon, because there's only a month or so before the season begins.
1. Starting XI questions
The starting XI is no guarantee at any club in MLS, but with the Dynamo specifically, it's a toss-up. There are some locks–Tyler Deric, Barnes, Will Bruin, Ricardo Clark, Sheanon Williams, Maidana–but elsewhere it is hard to know who will get the start. There are three capable center-backs (Anibaba, Raul Rodriguez, David Horst), multiple wingers (Barnes, Alex, Miranda, Wenger, Garcia) and a few other attackers (Rasheed Olabiyi, Torres, Manotas) who will be in contention.
Also, injuries, age, and international call-ups will impact the starting XI. Barnes will presumably play with Jamaica in the Copa America, while others, at some point, will get hit with the injury bug. It could take weeks to resolve, but eventually, we will have a general idea of who the consistent starters are.