The Dynamo’s disappointing season is over, though they did win a US Open Cup trophy and played a satisfying spoiler role on the last day of the season against the Galaxy. To look back, we’ll go player-by-player and evaluate.
Players are roughly in order based on their regular season minutes:
Mauro Manotas (FW, 2,634 mins)
Early last season, I tweeted this in the middle of the Manotas-Cubo Torres striker battle:
If Manotas could finish, he'd have won a starting spot by now.— Harrison Hamm (@harrisonhamm21) April 2, 2017
Manotas can finish now. He scored 19 goals and improved every element of his game, growing with the ball at his feet and with his back to goal, and understanding his role in the Dynamo’s front three with more clarity than ever before. His career year was a joy to watch.
His movement near goal, particularly when the ball is wide, frees slivers of crucial space for him and any Dynamo attacker smart enough to capitalize. This season, he transferred his natural striker instincts into consistent scoring and considerable gravity with and without the ball.
Tomas Martinez (MF, 2,457 mins)
Martinez is (arguably) the Dynamo’s most frustrating player. He put up good numbers (5g, 13a) but struggled to dictate possession from his No. 10 position, and Houston’s inability to do any of that precipitated their decline.
Underlying stats favor Martinez. His numbers in Expected Buildup and Expected Goal Chain were among the league leaders, indicating that he was heavily involved in Dynamo possessions regardless of whether they resulted in a shot.
But he wasn’t often a difference-maker on the ball. He’s a less-flashy version of pre-Rooney Luciano Acosta. He would function better as a secondary creator, with less responsibility to carry the load out of the midfield.
Alberth Elis (FW, 2,424 mins)
If Elis had maintained his spring pace throughout the rest of the season, the Dynamo may have made the playoffs. He was on a tear. At one point, he was leading the league in xG+xA/90 and carrying Houston on his back.
His form tailed off considerably for the rest of the season, and there were some games in which he went completely quiet. The Dynamo needed more April and May Elis.
(And, by the way, there should be discussion about whether Houston should sell Elis this winter. They should take any suitable offers and sell high.)
Joe Willis (GK, 2,340 mins)
Wilmer Cabrera gave Willis the majority of the goalkeeper minutes ahead of Chris Seitz. Willis was good and kept the Dynamo in some games without too many errors. In a bad year for MLS goalkeeping, Houston will take it.
Romell Quioto (FW, 2,255 mins)
Quioto was more consistent than Elis, but doesn’t have the top-gear that his fellow Honduran has. Quioto was not the problem for the Dynamo.
DaMarcus Beasley (LB, 2,209 mins)
With Dylan Remick missing the entire season, Run DMB had little time to rest. He occasionally showed signs of fatigue, but he handled the minutes well.
Oscar Boniek Garcia (CM, 2,063 mins)
Boniek was given more and more playing time as the year went on and played big roles in the Dynamo’s biggest games of the season. He can hold his own as a No. 8 next to a true No. 6. The problem was that with Juan David Cabezas’s injury, the Dynamo had no No. 6 who could fill the role. Boniek is versatile and can pass, but he won’t be your defensive midfielder.
Darwin Ceren (CM, 1,860 mins)
Ceren was Cabezas’s replacement. It didn’t go all that well, and the Dynamo’s most significant weakness became their central midfield. They couldn’t possess the ball without getting hit on the counter, helping kill Cabrera’s big initiative for this season, and they couldn’t do a ton with the ball anyway.
With more service, Elis may have maintained his form.
Leonardo (CB, 1,771 mins)
Alejandro Fuenmayor (CB, 1,765 mins)
Adolfo Machado (CB/RB, 1,696 mins)
Adam Lundqvist (RB, 1,200 mins)
Kevin Garcia (RB/CB, 1,103 mins)
These five were fixtures on the backline. Defense was overall a weakness for the Dynamo, but much of that was brought on by the absence of Cabezas. They were mistake-prone, though, and that cost Houston some points.
The front office should look for more speed and more solidity at the back — any good team needs a truly good central defender, and it doesn’t look like the Dynamo have one on this roster. They could also use more overlapping ability from the full backs.
Another place to start: Machado and Garcia should not play right back, and Garcia should not play ever if at all possible.
Andrew Wenger (FW/CM/RB, 1,710 mins)
As is customary, Wenger played a whole bunch of positions, and did his job in all of them. Playing him at right back later in the season fit his skillset well. He’s a workhorse and perfectly useful player.
Eric Alexander (CM, 1,663 mins)
Alexander missed a chunk of time at the end of the season with an injury, but generally stuck around the starting lineup for the duration of the season. He didn’t solve the issues in the midfield, but he’s not there to be a defensive midfielder — he’s there to cover the ground he can cover and hit the occasional diagonal switch.
His distribution hasn’t returned to its March-April 2017 level, when he played eight excellent games before an early May injury knocked him out until late September.
Memo Rodriguez (FW, 648 mins)
If Manotas hadn’t stepped up his game to the point that he did, Memo may have ended up the MVP of the Open Cup run. He scored three goals and shined enough early in the competition to convince Cabrera to give him more regular season minutes.
Rodriguez became a consistent substitute throughout the season as a spry backup to Quioto and Elis. He’s skillful and unafraid to cut inside with the ball at his feet, ready to pick out a runner or pull the trigger. His development will be fascinating to follow in 2019, especially if Elis leaves this winter.
Phillippe Senderos (CB, 607 mins)
Jared Watts (CB/CM, 536 mins)
AJ DeLaGarza (CB/RB, 360 mins)
The loss of DeLaGarza essentially for the season after a torn ACL during last year’s playoffs killed the Dynamo’s backline. They need AJD back for good next year, because he’s proved irreplaceable.
Senderos was old and slow in his 607 minutes, but also far from a disaster. Watts was a depth piece who played only sporadically.
Chris Seitz (GK, 540 mins)
Tyler Deric (GK, 180 mins)
Willis had the keeper spot on lockdown for most of the season. Seitz and Deric were alright in their minutes, though Deric did allow seven goals in his two games.
Willis should keep his spot next year. It was surprising to see Deric back late in the season given his domestic violence situation.
Arturo Alvarez (FW/CM, 343 mins)
Alvarez was this year’s version of Vicente Sanchez, just with less dynamism and effectiveness on the field. Alvarez is a good locker room piece as a longtime MLS veteran (drafted by the original Earthquakes in 2003!) and Houston native.
Eric Bird (CM, 340 mins)
Juan David Cabezas (CM, 291 mins)
Luis Gil (CM, 272 mins)
Two midfield depth options — Bird is a former third-round draft pick and RGV veteran and Gil is a one-time USMNT prospect on loan from Queretaro FC — and Cabezas, whose Week 1 injury turned into one of the costliest absences in MLS.
Cabezas’s groin issue slowly reached Kawhi levels of mysteriousness. A Chron article after that Week 1 game against Atlanta United, in which Cabezas was subbed out in the first half, said he’d be back in a couple weeks. He ended up missing six months, aside from an odd 21-minute cameo on May 25. The whole thing was weird.
Ronaldo Pena (FW, 223 mins)
Pena was signed later in the season as a backup forward. He managed a goal, but aside from that, small sample size.
Mac Steeves (FW, 26 mins)
Poor Mac didn’t even get a half-hour of game time. Maybe next year.