2014 was a rough season for the Houston Dynamo. An 11-win season saw the team miss out on the playoffs for just the second time in club history while long time head coach Dominic Kinnear saw his time in Houston come to an end. Only two players remain with the current Dynamo that started that 2014 season (DaMarcus Beasley was signed as a designated player after that summer’s World Cup), Tyler Deric and Boniek Garcia. There was a rough stretch for the Dynamo from 2014 to now, some highs and quite a few lows, but one thing remained, the Honduran do-it-all leader Boniek.
The Dynamo honored Boniek before Saturday’s match against Columbus for his 200th appearance for the club. Boniek’s start against Crew SC was his 202nd appearance for the Dynamo, which moved him past former forward Will Bruin for sixth on the club’s all-time list. He trails only Brad Davis, Ricardo Clark, Corey Ashe, Bobby Boswell, and Brian Ching on the Dynamo list. Now 34 years old, you may think Boniek Garcia is a club legend for the Houston Dynamo, someone who will have their picture hung on the pillars at BBVA Compass Stadium. You would be correct. You may also think, at 34 years old, Boniek is on his last legs and not much of a contributor to the team. You would be oh so wrong.
In 7 appearances this season, Boniek has a remarkable 88.2 passing percentage. That is top 25 in all Major League Soccer. A closer look at the numbers shows that the Honduran averages 46 passes per game, 38 of them being short passes. With Tomas Martinez and the vaunted front 3 of attackers in front of him, Boniek isn’t necessarily asked to drive the attack forward. What he does in the midfield is far more important, he keeps the attack alive, keeps it breathing. When the Dynamo are lacking cohesiveness, it’s Boniek that is on the ball, connecting passes to help the team find its shape and reinvigorate the offense. His 1.7 key passes a game (passes that lead to a teammate’s shot) show Boniek can also spark a goal scoring opportunity when necessary.
Defensively, Boniek has been a key cog in the Dynamo having one of the best defenses in Major League Soccer early in the 2019 season. While the revamped backline will get a lot of the credit, and rightfully so, it’s been Boniek and Matias Vera (with Juan David Cabezas working his way back from injury) helping to break up a lot of opposition attacks before they even get to the back four. With 2.6 tackles and 1.4 interceptions a game you can see how Boniek has taken on a defensive workload as well, especially with Cabezas out injured.
Finally, positioning. In years past Boniek has played all over, we’ve even seen him make some cameos at right back. Under Wilmer Cabrera, however, he has generally played in the center of midfield. The image below is a heat map of Boniek in the game Saturday against Columbus. The blue is areas where he was on the field during the game. The heavier concentration of color are areas he spent more time in. You can see by this graphic that he spent most of his time on the left side, in the Dynamo’s half. This is where you would expect a defensive midfielder to play. However, looking further at this map we see even more of the value Boniek brings to the Dynamo. He also spent time on the other side of the defensive midfield, in his own box defending, up the left wing in the attack, and in the box on the right side. Quite a remarkable heat map, and even more impressive for a 34-year-old. Boniek is literally all over the field for the Houston Dynamo.
Coming in to the season if you had told me Boniek Garcia would play a big roll in the Houston Dynamo’s 2019 season, I would have asked how many players got injured. But just seven games in we are seeing how important the veteran Honduran midfielder is in the attack, on defense, and all over the field. Here’s to hoping that this fine wine continues to age perfectly in 2019.