The Houston Dynamo are in last place in the Western Conference right now, and they won't be moving from that spot for another week, if not more. The Sounders are two points ahead with a game in hand, and although they may not take any points from Portland on Sunday, they won't be overtaken.
The Dynamo lost again on Friday night in LA. They couldn't score, and the defense had another breakdown, so another 1-0 loss ensued. It's become standard procedure for away games. If that game was in Houston, it would have ended 1-1 or 0-0. How exciting.
It's not all bad, though. This is a rebuilding year for the Dynamo — or at least that's what it should be — and since the playoffs are basically out of the question, narrow away losses to the LA Galaxy are acceptable. Obviously, I'm sure Wade Barrett would love to get three points as much as you do — this is not the NBA, and the Dynamo are not the 76ers — but at this point, it should be more about finding a system, locating weaknesses, and playing the kids. And I guess a high SuperDraft pick doesn't hurt.
So, with that in mind, we examine one element of the goals I listed above: Finding weaknesses. What exactly are the Dynamo's weaknesses, and what can they do to improve them?
Let's go position-by-position and find out:
The current goalkeeping situation is promising, maybe more promising than any other spot on the roster.
Tyler Deric, a Homegrown 27-year old Houston native, is the starter, although he's missed a considerable amount of time this season due to injuries and red cards. Veteran Joe Willis has, in my opinion, done exceptionally well while filling in for him, and he's a great veteran backup option to have. Calle Brown, the newly-signed 24-year old former Pittsburgh Riverhounds USLer, is the third-stringer.
No improvements needed here.
DaMarcus Beasley has been the starting left back for the last two seasons or so (half of 2014, all of 2015, and half of 2016), and he's done a splendid job despite his rapidly advancing age. The former USMNT starter was especially good under Barrett after being given the captain's armband, and he was crucial in the Dynamo's left-wing oriented attack.
But now he's injured, and they just aren't the same with Abdoulie Mansally or Sheanon Williams at the position. This offseason or maybe the July 2017 transfer window, they should look at finding a young DMB understudy, preferably an in-house signing — an academy player, an RGVFC veteran. Mansally and Williams are good as bench options and short-term replacements, but I'm not so sure about their viability as starters on playoff teams.
David Horst and Raul Rodriguez are currently the starters in central defense. I wouldn't be against Rodriguez has a future starter, but as for Horst, I think he may be too mistake-prone to be an everyday starter. I think he would be a great third option off the bench, however.
The signing of Agus perplexes me. Acquiring a 31-year old Spanish second division player and paying him a considerable salary ($132,000) but not giving him almost any time on the field does not make sense for a young and developing team like the Dynamo. He should probably be let go after the season unless he is intended as a starter.
They could be upgrading the center back corps in this window, as Costa Rican Keyner Brown has been rumored to be a target. He would be a welcome addition.
Jalil Anibaba — a converted center back acquired in the offseason from Sporting KC — has gotten the majority of starts at right back over last year's starter Williams, who lost the job when he was injured early on in the season. Anibaba hasn't been bad, but he often lacks the speed and 1v1 defending skills to match up with skillful attackers, and he doesn't provide the overlapping runs and offensive ability that the Dynamo need with Andrew Wenger on the right side.
This isn't something that should be addressed in this window, but later on, it would be good for Anibaba to have some competition.
The Dynamo have finally found their man in defensive midfield, and he has been a revelation. Collen Warner, who they picked up just days before the season started in a trade with Toronto FC, was given the start behind two higher midfielders against Vancouver in Barrett's first game as interim manager, and he made a huge difference.
I won't say he was a resounding success right off the bat — his distribution got better over time — but his sheer presence as a midfielder solely focused on defense (what an amazing concept) provided the Dynamo's other midfielders with more of a license to attack, and prevented counters from facing only the two center backs. There's a reason that the Dynamo have allowed just seven goals in the nine games (in all competitions) they've played since Warner was made a starter.
So I think's they're good in this area as of today. The key is to stick with it.
Alex and Ricardo Clark have been the main center midfielders Barrett seems to favor in his 4-1-4-1 formation. Alex has been very good as a ball-winning, box-to-box mid who tracks back consistently and helps shadow the opposition's main offensive threat, so good that he has an argument to be the Dynamo's midseason MVP. The veteran Clark hasn't been his usual midfield facet and architect, but he is still good for a few goals every once in a while.
The only actual No. 10 on the roster, Cristian Maidana, has become more of a bench option than anything else, for reasons that I can't honestly pinpoint. The Orange don't have any sort of chance creation in midfield — that's why they've scored more than one goal in a game only twice in MLS since May — and while most of their attacks originate from the left wing, the lack of playmaking ability centrally continues to hurt them.
If the coaching staff doesn't have faith in Maidana, acquire somebody new to provide more attacking chops to this midfield.
Andrew Wenger has won himself the right midfield job thanks to his ability to track back on defense, score some goals, and provide numbers centrally when he inverts. The left midfield job, however, has rotated between a number of players.
Maidana, Alex, Boniek Garcia, Giles Barnes, and the now-departed Leonel Miranda have each gotten runs at the position, with varying degrees of success; Garcia has been the most recent holder of the position. He has four assists on the season — the most on the team — and has mostly played well.
A winger with consistent and reliable goal-scoring talent as well some semblance of ability in the final third should be on the wish-list if you're the Dynamo.
It's been Will Bruin who has mostly been playing as a lone forward this season, although Giles Barnes and Mauro Manotas have both been given opportunities at the position. Bruin can scrape out goals at times — he has four this season — but he doesn't provide much skill on the ball, or the ability to link up with other players in and around the box. He tends to get isolated up top, and he hasn't been able to make up for it with consistent goal-scoring production.
More scoring and efficiency up top is also a big need for the Dynamo.