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Houston Dynamo 2020 MLS Season Preview

The Dynamo are set to enter a new ear under head coach Tab Ramos in 2020.

Soccer: 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying - Semifinal Round-Guatemala at USA Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

A new decade brings forth another new era in Dynamo soccer. Gone are captain DaMarcus Beasley and coaches Wilmer Cabrera and Davy Arnaud. In are Darwin Quintero, Tab Ramos, and some homegrowns looking to lead the Dynamo back to the top of the mountain in MLS.

How did they finish in 2019?

When you look back on the 2019 season for the Dynamo, there isn’t much to remember. Houston finished with just 40 points, good for 10th in the Western Conference. A huge mid-season slump led to Wilmer Cabrera losing his job and interim Davy Arnaud piloting the ship to the finish line.

What did we learn last season?

One thing we learned for sure from 2019 is going stretches of five to seven games between wins is going to lead to a very low finish in the standings. Obviously 2019 was an awful season for the Dynamo on most fronts but the club knows this isn’t going to be an overnight fix. Pieces were brought in to try and solidify the defense, but the team still conceded 59 goals in 34 games. As exciting as the attack is, you’re not going to win many games shipping that many goals. Last year’s Dynamo team never found cohesion until, strangely enough, the last game of the season when they thumped a playoff bound LA Galaxy side 4-2.

What’s new in 2020?

Former United States international Tab Ramos is the new man in charge for the Dynamo, taking over as a manager of a club team for the first time in his career. After 81 caps with the USMNT and being the first signing in Major League Soccer history, Ramos transitioned to coaching. The Uruguayan born manager cut his teeth as a coach in the youth ranks. Ramos coached the Under 20 United States national from 2011 to 2019 and served as an assistant on the senior national team under Jurgen Klinsmann. Ramos led the U20s to the 2013 U20 World Cup and won the CONCACAF Championship in 2017 and 2018.

Now tasked with leading his first club team, Ramos comes to the Dynamo with a lot of excitement. His success at the youth national team level leads many to believe that the Dynamo youth will begin to flourish, something that has not happened at the club in the past. Ramos’ story will still be written but one thing is for sure, his hiring has brought some hope to the fan base.

What’s the one storyline you’ll be following?

Will they stay or will they go? Alberth Elis and Mauro Manotas have been rumored to be making moves for some time now, yet they remain members of the Dynamo. Both players were not sold in the winter, so the summer transfer market is the next chance to see them move abroad, or south. Elis’ contract ends at the end of the season, so it is almost imperative for the club to do something with him this summer. If he is allowed to walk for free at the end of the season, that is a huge black eye on the front office. Manotas turns 25 in May, meaning his window to move while still in his prime could be closing. The future of both players will be a huge story for Dynamo fans to follow in 2020.

Who’s out?

We mentioned the coaching change above, but several players left this offseason as well. On defense DaMarcus Beasley retired, Marlon Hairston was traded to Minnesota, AJ DeLaGarza to Miami, and Kevin Garcia left the club. Both goalkeepers who played last season, Joe Willis and Tyler Deric, left. Willis was traded to MLS newcomers Nashville SC and Deric’s option was declined. Up front the Romell Quioto saga finally came to an end as the Honduran was traded to Montreal.

Who’s in?

With two goalkeepers leaving, two new ones had to be brought in. Croatian Marko Maric was signed to be the likely starter and the team traded for Cody Cropper from New England. On defense, the Dynamo traded for MLS veterans Zarek Valentin and Victor Cabrera and signed youngster Kyle Adams from USL affiliate Rio Grande Valley FC. The big move of the offseason happened early on with the acquisition of Colombian attacker Darwin Quintero from Minnesota United.

What’s the new jersey?

Courtesy of MLS

The Dynamo have a new secondary shirt in 2020, the all black with orange accents. The MLS standard three stripes adorn the right shoulder. The league also has a new font for player names and numbers. The black shirt was a fan favorite in previous years and there’s no reason to believe this year’s version will be any different.

Who is the player to watch and why?

He isn’t the flashiest player, but Matias Vera is going to stir the Dynamo drink in 2020. The Argentine is a vital link from the defense to attack and will be key to how successful this team can be this season.

Courtesy of American Soccer Analysis

Here are Vera’s numbers by percentile of defensive midfielders in MLS in 2019, thanks to the great people at American Soccer Analysis. Vera is a good passer and a very good one on long balls. With the speed up front, Vera’s ability to pick out guys on the run can spring some lethal attacks. Vera doesn’t get up field as much, which is likely why he hits so many long passes. He has shown the ability to be a good dribbler and Ramos could look to add the ability to get up field in to the attack to his repertoire and become more of a complete midfielder. Vera’s defensive abilities will be tested with an attack heavy team, meaning his defensive actions and recoveries will need to improve some in 2020. He is going to have to cut down on fouls and his propensity to give the opposition dangerous set pieces. Vera doesn’t turn 25 until October and seeing what Ramos can do with his new number 6 should make all Dynamo fans excited.

Projected ideal XI

What we see on Saturday is likely not the ideal starting XI that is pictured above. Alberth Elis is likely to start the season on the sidelines and Darwin Quintero is still finding his fitness. The right back battle between Jose Bizama and Zarek Valentin could go on much of the season. There are a number of center backs on the roster as well with Struna and Figueroa looking to be the first choice, for now. Injuries, fatigue, and suspension could see that pairing change quite often.

The midfield is also up in the air as the season goes on. Will youngsters Memo Rodriguez and Marcelo Palomino get an extended run? Will veterans Boniek Garcia and Darwin Ceren solidify starting spots? There are so many questions but one good thing about having questions, it means the team has depth, something that wasn’t always available in previous seasons.

What is the biggest concern for this season?

The defense was bad in 2019, we mentioned the numbers earlier, and they are going to be a concern in 2020 until we start seeing signs of improvement. Two new outside backs and a new goalkeeper means things will be different, but that doesn’t always translate in to being good. Adam Lundkvist and Jose Bizama both look to be involved in the attack as players that like to get forward. The pair is going to have to defensively sound as well. The Dynamo can’t afford get counter-attacked with the two of them get caught forward in the attack. Ramos and the staff will have to instill in the two when and where to pick their spots. Maynor Figueroa and Kiki Struna, the two holdovers from 2019, showed flashes last season but they need to remain a consistent force in the middle of the park for the Dynamo to improve on their defensive record and ultimately the team’s record.

Expectations for 2020?

With a new coach comes lofty expectations from some fans. However, I think Dynamo fans need to be patient. If Ramos can begin to get the young players involved and continue to develop more of the core, this team could be dangerous. But that is probably not going to happen this year.

The Western Conference in MLS is stacked, led by Supporters Shield winners LAFC and reining MLS Cup champions Seattle. Seven teams will make the playoffs again this season and a playoff berth should be the goal for the Dynamo. It’s going to be tough in a conference that has a revamped LA Galaxy, and Sporting Kansas City, and up and comers like Colorado and San Jose, but not impossible. Will they ultimately make the playoffs? Like any team they are going to need a bit of skill mixed in with a bit of luck. If things go well, we could see them fighting to make the postseason down to the final days of the 2020 season.