We’re past the quarter mark of the 2017 MLS regular season and the Houston Dynamo are currently perched on top of the Western Conference. They’ve scored 21 goals already this season, eight by Golden Boot co-leader Erick Torres. The most important qualifier to this is that the Dynamo have played seven of 10 games at home and have failed to a get a point away from BBVA Compass Stadium. Their next five games (four of which are on the road) will be a good indicator of how for real this team really is.
Today, we’re evaluating each player’s performance this season with a simple letter grade. Only players with at least 150 minutes under their belt will be considered (meaning no Kevin Garcia, Vicente Sanchez, or Memo Rodriguez). There are 18, and they are ranked in order of their grade from lowest to highest. Maybe I’m way too lenient; maybe I’m way too harsh. You decide.
Here we go:
Tyler Deric (GK): B-
Deric seems to have lost the starting keeper job to Joe Willis. He’s always been a promising goalkeeper with a tendency to make superman-like athletic stops, but he also has fatal flaws in his game that continue to hold him back. The Dynamo organization’s only Homegrown player with significant minutes has never been able to reach his full potential.
Leonardo (CB): B
An offseason acquisition from LA, Leonardo’s been fine in 630 minutes. He isn’t great with the ball at his feet, but he’s big and strong enough to match up with some of MLS’s best forwards and he’s just quick enough to contend with tricky attackers. Average.
Jalil Anibaba (CB/FB): B
Anibaba got some minutes when Leonardo was out of the lineup. He was fine in that time 270-minute span, and he remains a solid, versatile bench player.
Andrew Wenger (RM): B
Wenger just barely made the cut at 154 minutes. A winger with better defensive instincts than anybody on the Dynamo’s primary front four, Wenger is consistently brought off the bench by Wilmer Cabrera (with six sub appearances) and he picked up a start against the Red Bulls when Romell Quioto was injured. He has the ability to play comfortably in almost any role you put him in, so he is a valuable sub player who will sneak away with the occasional back-post goal as well.
Ricardo Clark (CM): B
It’s hard to imagine the 34-year old former USMNTer starting for the Dynamo if not for various midfield injuries, but he’s provided a veteran presence and a calm passing ability rarely seen elsewhere in the team. While the captain doesn’t have the legs he once did, he remains a serviceable player.
Joe Willis (GK): B
Willis, a longtime MLS backup widely considered the best second-stringer in MLS, stole the starting job from Deric after the loss in New England and hasn’t given it up since. He’s not the most dynamic or athletic keeper, but he can be deceivingly aggressive coming off his line and he deals with crosses better than a lot of American netminders.
Boniek Garcia (CM): B
I debated giving Boniek a B+ because I think he’s their most important bench player, but given that he hasn’t had a prominent role in the Dynamo’s early success, and the fact that he’s only played 410 minutes out of 900, I made him the highest-ranked ‘B’ player. Garcia played an important role in the diamond midfield Houston used for a spell and he’s come off the bench four times.
Dylan Remick (LB): B+
Remick remains a clear second-stringer at left back behind DaMarcus Beasley. He did put in a couple of solid performances early on, especially in the game against New York, and he even managed to knock home a goal. DaMarcus Beasley heaped praise on him after the NYRB game and it was deserved.
AJ DeLaGarza (RB): B+
Not sure you’re going to find someone who doesn’t love AJ DeLaGarza, a solid and sturdy right back a lot of MLS teams would love to have in their starting XI. He goes out and quietly does his job every week, rarely moving from the lineup and always putting in a good day’s work. His former club, LA, would love to have him today after AJD’s replacement, Bradley Diallo, was red carded on Sunday.
Eric Alexander (CDM/CM): B+
I wasn’t convinced that Alexander was a starting-caliber midfielder for the Dynamo at the beginning of the season, but after a couple of games, he convinced me. Alexander put himself ahead of Clark and Garcia on the depth chart and was firmly locked in place as a starting d-mid until he went down for 10 weeks with a right knee MCL sprain. He was very good in the team he was on the field.
DaMarcus Beasley (LB): A-
The best Dynamo full back on the overlap and overall, Beasley is submitting a solid Gold Cup case to Bruce Arena right now. He’s looked ageless so far, and while he can be beaten by slick wingers in space, he is great when combining in Zone 13. Occasionally, he’s even gotten to the endline and sent in promising crosses, showing he won’t be defeated by Father Time just yet.
Juan David Cabezas (CDM): A-
Cabezas was acquired in the offseason as the definitive, long-term fix to the Dynamo’s defensive midfield issues, and so far, he’s looked the part of an MLS starting No. 6. He is impressively disciplined, he covers the space in front of the backline exceptionally well, and his endless motor allows him to constantly and diligently track forwards and No. 10s.
Adolfo Machado (CB): A-
Another recent acquisition, the Panamanian international center back Machado has asserted himself as the best central defender and possibly the best defender on a roster that has been stuck with average defenders (aside from the aging DMB) for a couple of years now. David Horst and Agus were good-not-great; Machado is simply good.
Romell Quioto (LW): A
Quioto has lived up to his billing as a goal-creating speedster, and despite only 466 minutes on the field this season, he has four goals and two assists. The Honduran gets out and runs in transition like few wingers in MLS, often receiving the ball in open space and taking on a helpless defender or hitting a pinpoint curler into the net. He’s been very good.
Alberth Elis (RW): A
Pretty much everything I wrote about Quioto applies to Elis, other than the part about him missing time. Elis was injured recently, but he’s started nine games and came on as a sub in the 10th. There’s an argument that he is a top-five MLS winger.
Erick Torres (FW): A
The MLS Golden Boot leader, Torres has eight goals and an assist on the season. He’s been relentless as a No. 9, constantly moving in the box and getting into the right positions to put quality shots on goal. His hold-up play and passing in attack has looked great as well, and that has helped the wingers get chances on goal themselves. We can officially call Wilmer Cabrera “The Cubo Whisperer.”
Mauro Manotas (FW): A+
You can fight me on this one in the comments, but I think Manotas has actually been better than Torres this season. He’s been on the field less (just 444 minutes) but he’s managed three goals and an assist and possibly won the job last week, as he got the start in the win against Vancouver last week. Manotas has moved better and faster and has helped to create more attacks than Cubo. It’s also worth noting that four of Torres’s eight goals were PKs.
Alex (CM): A+
More people should be aware of how well Alex is playing right now. He has five assists, he covers an extraordinary amount of ground between the deep-sitting duel 6s and the high-and-wide front three, and he is distributing considerably better than he did last year. He’s not a 10, but he is (somewhat) taking that role on admirably this season while continuing to excel in his role as a ball-winning workhorse No. 8. I thought seriously about giving him an A++.