The 2017 MLS summer transfer and trade window, which ended on Thursday, was one of the most active in league history. Partly due to the blueprint of riding summer acquisitions to rises up the table that Seattle and D.C. United established last year and partly (or, arguably, mostly) due to the influx of GAM and especially TAM into teams’ bank accounts, which allows them to fill the starting XI with quality-but-not-quite-DP-level contributors.
The Dynamo signed two players over the entire window, one near the beginning and one close to the end: Designated Player No. 10 Tomas Martinez and veteran center back Philippe Senderos. Given the state of the roster — which has put the Dynamo in second place in the Western Conference despite weeks without top players — these signings were all that needed to happen, and they put the Dynamo in position to both keep some cash for the offseason and make a postseason run.
Martinez fills the final true need in the starting XI, the No. 10 position. Cristian Maidana (remember him?) never did it and they were too busy filling in the talent gaps last winter to focus on the longer process of scouting and signing a South American central creator, the most highly-coveted position in MLS.
We have yet to see him in action (paperwork and the like) but considering the organization decided him worthy of a DP slot, it’s likely he’s no scrub. Houston’s weakness, competency in possession and dictating the pace of games — and because of this away results — should theoretically be diminished, and help them compete with Sporting KC and struggling FC Dallas for a top-two spot in the conference.
The former SC Braga standout in Portugal should, and feel free to get at me in the comments if you disagree, push Alex back to his true role as a No. 8 and, in all likelihood, stick Ricardo Clark on the bench. Here’s what that lineup would look like:
Alex is a top-tier MLS No. 8 and it’s kind of a travesty that he hasn’t been played there a lot this season. It’s worth noting that when he has, the Dynamo have ripped teams apart.
The “bench a bunch of good players because the backups won a game against the worst team in the league” strategy last week was a bit dumbfounding from Wilmer Cabrera, so the above, if possible with injuries and visa issues, should be the starting XI against San Jose this weekend.
Senderos was brought in, as the press release states, to be an experienced head on a backline still struggling with unfamiliarity, and to add “been there, done that” depth to a team whose previous backup center back was right back Jalil Anibaba. He was a member (injured, but a member) of Arsenal’s 2003-04 “Invincibles” team, he played for AC Milan, Valencia, and Aston Villa, Fullham and Everton in the Premier League, and he has 57 caps for Switzerland, including three World Cups.
The 32-year-old has done some stuff, you could say. So while he won’t enter the lineup as a world-beating central defender, he will be a good locker room presence who will add some experience to a generally young team. It especially helps that he apparently speaks six languages, including Spanish. How he managed to learn Spanish after just five months in La Liga we do not know.
It’s pretty clear he was brought in for reasons of experience and veteran nous, but old center backs have had some success in MLS recently. Jelle Van Damme, 33, was in contention for Defender of the Year last year, and 35-year-old Oguchi Onyewu, who you may remember from the 2005 Gold Cup, has won a starting role in Philadelphia.
The Dynamo front office has satisfied the fanbase with a crucial high-caliber DP and then shrewdly brought on a UEFA Champions League finalist as a defensive depth piece. That impressive, if small, loot has gone under the radar in national MLS circles, but it puts the Dynamo in position for a run without giving away all future allocation money, a la Orlando.
We should remember that the Dynamo went into this season as a rebuilding club, coming off two years of utter mismanagement and a severe lack of ambition. That they are where they are is impressive in itself, and indicative of a recent MLS trend in which teams have skipped the traditional rebuilding stage entirely (Colorado last year, Chicago, Atlanta this year).
They still have important decisions to make and spots to fill before they leap into the upper tier of MLS contenders (they’re a ways off from that), but there’s no reason they can’t play deep into November like, say, Montreal last year. These moves allow them that opportunity while showing an understanding that their window of contention is large, and will only get larger as they fill more gaps.
This organizational competence from the Dynamo is something that has not been seen since I started watching them. It should give the fanbase tons of hope for the future.