The Houston Dynamo have played four matches under interim head coach Kenny Bundy since the firing of Paulo Nagamura. There was a 0-0 draw against Sporting Kansas City and a win over New England at home. Those were followed with road games against LAFC, a loss, and a win in Nashville. I know what you’re thinking, this is an incredibly small sample size with Bundy in charge. You’re right. Still, it’s time to name Bundy the permanent head coach of the Houston Dynamo. Let’s talk about the reasons why.
Hiring Bundy might be seen as “settling” to a section of the fanbase, but we need to step back and be realistic for a moment. Marcelo Bielsa isn’t coming to Houston to coach the Dynamo. It’s a great dream but it’s exactly that, a dream. Tata Martino and Gregg Berhalter might be out of jobs after the World Cup, but they are more than likely going to be in demand by some much bigger clubs than Houston. The Dynamo job isn’t exactly a high-profile position, especially after the last coach was fired in his first season. There are a lot of names being tossed around on social media, but those guys just aren’t coming here. That doesn’t mean Bundy isn’t the best choice.
Bundy is a great student of the sport. If you hear him talk about tactics and building a game plan, it’s like sitting in a college course. He and his coaching staff put great detail into studying opponents and finding ways to exploit weaknesses. Most importantly, Bundy plays and exciting style of soccer. He wants to attack from the opening whistle. He wants to press early and often to get an early goal. Bundy spoke many times during the Dynamo 2 season about how the team wanted an early goal so they could dictate the match. The Dynamo have now won both matches under Bundy when they scored first. He spoke after Sunday’s match about how important getting the first goal is.
“Goals change games, right. I know that’s such a silly cliche, but goals change games. To get that first goal at the moment that we did. It gave us that that spike of energy that we needed. It makes it makes not scoring the third, which I thought we should have, that much easier. It helps in every aspect of the game, it puts them under a little bit more pressure, it kind of clarifies that what we’re doing is working. At the same time, we have to fight for that. We have to fight to get that first goal. Even at halftime, the message at halftime was we’re up two nil, but we don’t change what we’re doing. What we’re doing is working, if we can get the third goal, great. If we can’t, we just keep defending the way we’re defending. The one thing I didn’t want us to do is bunker and I didn’t want us to go and sit on top of our box and go ‘oh we’re up two nil.’ I wanted us to continue to press the way we were pressing, force their center backs to have to play, force predictable balls over the top, and the guys did it. That’s when you have that early goal or when you score that first goal. It allows you to really refine what you’re doing, but also you can keep pushing, because the pressure has shifted a little bit to them. It’s massive every game.”
Goals get people excited, that’s an obvious statement. The Jose Mourinho style of parking the bus and winning 1-0 isn’t going to get people excited. The Dynamo fan base needs excitement. Bundy is going to bring that in a league that has become an attacker’s dream. With some reinforcements this offseason, like some new wings and an attacking option in the midfield, Bundy can really unleash his tactical style and have the Dynamo buzzing going forward. It’s hard to find managers who will go petal to the metal like Bundy does and uses data and research to back up doing it.
Bundy might be seen as another “new coach”, but he’s worked his way up. He’s taken the path that the club is trying to develop for players. He started in the academy and worked his way up to Dynamo 2 before jumping to Major League Soccer. Bundy is the poster child for the pipeline the Houston Dynamo are trying to establish. That takes me to another point, Bundy is Houston Dynamo through and through.
Houston supports a winner, that is for sure. We also support “our” guys; players, coaches, anyone who has grown up in the city or come up with the teams here. We’ve seen this with the Houston Astros. Fans were devastated when George Springer and Carlos Correa left in free agency because they were “our” guys. They worked there way up, they persevered through the tough times, and they always gave everything for Houston. Bundy is not an all-star centerfielder or gold glove winning shortstop, but he is in that same mod. Like I mentioned above, he’s worked his way up through the Dynamo “system” and he is definitely here in the midst of the tough times. Bundy is the kind of coach the fans can behind for that reason, and more.
When Bundy was named interim head coach of the Dynamo, I personally had some reservations. The main thing I was concerned with was how Bundy’s personality and coaching would go over with veteran professionals. I’ve gotten the chance to cover Bundy all season with Dynamo 2 and talk with him during his press conferences. He’s a great tactical coach and he can spend ten minutes breaking down how an opponent plays their fullbacks a certain way and how they can be attacked. It’s incredible to listen to and shows the amazing mind he has for the sport. That part, I wasn’t concerned with at all. You’ve seen some of the videos of Bundy speaking with the Dos players. Bundy is a very emotional, “rah rah” coach. He feeds off the energy from players and it can come off as a bit of a college or youth feel. When guys get to the top level of the sport, they don’t always like to be preached to or made to feel good with pep talks.
I wondered if the players in an MLS locker room would take to Bundy the same way the younger guys at Dynamo 2 did. Boy was I wrong. The players love Bundy. Don’t believe me? Let the players themselves tell you.
Fafa Picault: “He just brought a great vibe, he’s brought a new energy to us. A lot of us already knew him prior to him being appointed our coach. Tactically, he’s made it a bit clearer, it’s not easy for him either, because he has such a short time to break down so much. He’s done a great job of keeping things concise in the meetings, and throughout the training sessions where we’re not getting too fatigued, but we’re still getting enough work and to be able to exercise them in the games. More than that, obviously, we have the tactics, but more than that is he’s coming as a great person and we all just want to fight for him. We’re in that that state of mind where we want to fight for each other and close out the season well, for each other and also for him.”
Memo Rodriguez: “Yeah, I think a lot of energy from the guys. Obviously when you have a coaching change it’s difficult, but you want to prove yourself. Everybody wants to prove (themselves) and fight for the badge, fight for the club and show that we have potential. I think Kenny’s brought a positive energy, positive messages to us, and he fights for us and we fight for him and I think that’s positive that the group is together in all that. We win as a club and we lose as a club. I think Kenny’s done an excellent job bringing his energy and his ideas and we try to implement them as fast as we can because there’s a short period of time that he’s coming in and taking charge.”
Bundy understands the job at hand. He knows what being head coach of the Houston Dynamo would mean and the tall task that would entail. This club has been dormant for so long, getting them back up off the mat and back to being a consistent contender in MLS won’t be easy. If you’ve heard Bundy speak in any of his press conferences, character is a word he uses often. Bundy is a great tactical coach, he can coach up any group of players, but it’s the intangibles like character that help build a club to something permanently viable. I asked Bundy after Sunday’s win in Nashville about the character he often talks about and how important it is not just to the team now but in building the club back up.
“It’s such an intangible thing that is really, really hard to coach. It’s really hard to get out of people. The way that we’ve tried to do that as a staff, and the way we’ve tried to get the players to understand what that actually means. In a short amount of time, it’s very difficult. When you have your first game after three days, with the staff, and you go down a man and you get a draw, okay, that’s the first piece of the character. Then you play in New England, you win a game at home and you win in the fashion that we did, it shows a different type of character. Then you go to LAFC, which is an extremely difficult place to play — I felt we played really, really well — and you lose, that also tests a different layer of the character. Coming into this, we had already seen three different scenarios that we could lean on. This is a learning moment for the group. Individual characters is really important, but really what you want is you want a collective group character. You want them to understand these are the principles, this is what we’re trying to do. This is how we’re going to be together. A lot of times I challenged the group, like there’s going to be times you’re gonna have to do work for someone else. Someone’s going to go down with an injury, we’re going to have a guy off the field, we’re going to be playing with 10 men. Are you willing to do the work for each other? Are you willing to fight and do the gritty, nasty work that it takes to win games for each other? And they did it tonight.”
Bundy should be named head coach of the Dynamo once the season ends. Yeah, he isn’t the “sexy pick” that fans are going to go crazy over. But Kenny Bundy is the right choice. Bundy embodies the Houston Dynamo and what the club is building now and in the future, he is a tactician who plays an exciting attacking style, the players play for him, and he understands the factors and traits needed to win. Four games is a small sample size but it’s shown us things we haven’t seen out of the Houston Dynamo in a long time. Let’s see it again in 2023, and beyond.