We’re almost two weeks out from the beginning of the MLS regular season. Most teams, including the Dynamo, have their roster set, and have a loose starting XI and formation.
With the season so close (finally), the predictions will be coming fast and furious here soon. I’m not going to wade into that yet — I’ll wait a week to put out my terrible predictions — but it’s time to put out the annual discussion question: are the Dynamo good enough to make the postseason?
I did this last year as well, and came out with the hot-take-averse conclusion that anything can happen in MLS and, basically, we’ll see. That still carries weight today, because nothing has changed. Everything I’m about to say could be voided by the time we get to April.
But I’m about to break some bad news to all the Dynamo fans reading this right now: Houston is not going to be a playoff team this year. In fact, they might finish in last place again.
And no, that’s not okay. They should be better right now. I’m not going to make excuses for this team anymore. There is no doubt that there were genuine improvements made in this offseason, but the weaknesses on this team are too big to overcome, and the front office did not do enough to negate them.
To defend my stance here, I’m going to start by putting out what is likely the day one starting lineup:
I have two problems with this XI, and they are the essence of why this team will not be in contention for the postseason.
First, there are no game-changing players here. Every playoff team in this league has one (or, if you’re one of the better ones, multiple) legitimate stars in their lineup, whether they are a goal-scoring No. 9 like Fanendo Adi or Dom Dwyer, a true No. 10 like Nicolas Lodeiro or Sacha Kljestan, or a dominating winger or second forward like Ignacio Piatti, Sebastian Giovinco, or Giovani dos Santos.
Alberth Elis is certainly a very talented 21-year old, and Cubo Torres did score plenty of goals three years ago for Chivas RIP, but neither of those two are on par with many of the top players in this league. They’re mid-to-high-tier players at their positions right now, and while those players are great to have, it is absolutely necessary to have a top-tier player to take a club to the next level.
If you are thinking, “wait, about Colorado last year? Who did they have?” then congratulations, you are correct: there was no game-breaker in the Rapids lineup last year. Tim Howard does not qualify and Old Rickety Jermaine Jones doesn’t either.
That team was the outlier of all outliers, though. If you are relying on a pack-it-in-and-hope-for-the-best run with three out-and-out attackers in the XI, then you are fooling yourself (same goes for Colorado, who are not going to be able to repeat last year’s success with Dominque Badji up front).
There is no star, and that, in itself, could kill them. Maybe Elis or Torres or Mauro Manotas goes out and bangs home 15 goals, but I don’t see that happening, especially without a primary central creator. This is a clear and obvious failure on the part of the Dynamo hierarchy.
The second problem, and perhaps the most important one, is the multitude of possible weaknesses at almost all different positions. Forward (either Cubo or Mauro) and the two Honduran wingers are not weaknesses, but it’s possible that every other position on the field other than full back and goalkeeper could wind up causing significant problems. There are a lot of important questions to ask throughout this roster.
Everybody loves Boniek Garcia, but is he really going to dictate the attack to the point where the front three is living up to their potential? Alex can run all day, win the ball in good spots, and combine well in the final third, but can he do enough with the ball at his feet to fully implement the more possession-based tactics that Cabrera will implement? Will Juan David Cabezas’s shakiness in the first preseason game be a precursor to more rough performances in defensive midfield?
Will Adolfo Machado, an unproven commodity in central defense, be able to quickly adjust to the quirks of being an MLS starter and settle into a solid role along the backline? Leonardo’s been mistake-prone for the LA Galaxy over the last couple of years, so will that continue to haunt him in a new place? Are Dylan Remick and Jalil Anibaba good enough to immediately step in for DaMarcus Beasley and AJ DeLaGarza?
Too many questions, and while some will have satisfactory answers, some will not, and that will ultimately be the downfall of this team.
It is possible (I’m not convinced) that the Dynamo are on a path to future success, led by the four Latin American attackers under the age of 25. But for now, don’t expect to see November soccer at BBVA Compass Stadium for another year.
The blame for that starts at the top.