The Major League Soccer offseason is up and running but the Houston Dynamo have been relatively quiet. The club has made a few moves but nothing that is really going to get the fan base excited and jumping off the couch to buy more tickets. So, what’s next? Where does the club go from here as they navigate this shortened offseason?
The 2023 MLS season is set to begin on February 25, with teams likely kicking off their preseasons in January. Offseasons seem to get shorter and shorter each year and this season is no different. The Dynamo have at least 8 roster spots open and not a lot of time to fill them.
Houston began the offseason by declining the contracts of Mateo Bajamich, Ian Hoffmann, Marcelo Palomino, Thiago, Zarek Valentin, Darwin Quintero, Memo Rodriguez and Zeca. Corey Baird, Griffin Dorsey, Ethan Bartlow, and Adam Lundqvist had their options exercised and Daniel Steres signed a contract extension. The Dynamo then added three new players to the roster using three different mechanisms.
Brazilian midfielder Artur was acquired from Columbus Crew in exchange for General Allocation Money. Artur should slot into the midfield and likely start alongside Coco Carrasquilla and Hector Herrera. Ifunanyachi Achara was selected by the Dynamo in Stage 2 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft. The 25-year-old attacking player who last played for Toronto signed with Houston today for the 2023 season and a club option for 2024. Finally, goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell was signed as a free agent. Tarbell brings some experience to the backup goalkeeper role behind Steve Clark. And, now what?
The next offseason event takes place tomorrow with the MLS College Showcase. The Showcase runs from tomorrow through Monday and will feature all the top prospects in the country ahead of the SuperDraft and give the scouting team a chance to get a better look at these players. The SuperDraft itself will take place on December 21. Houston will have the 5th pick in each of the three rounds. The Dynamo have selected Bartlow and Thor Ulfarsson recently with picks at the top of the first round so they will be looking to find another impact player this year.
Once the draft ends, it’s just weeks until the preseason gets underway. With three Designated Player spots already occupied (Sebas Ferreira, Carrasquilla, and Herrera), the “big splash” is not going to happen this offseason (or this summer). The Dynamo are going to have to look at other ways to strengthen the roster and there are three main ways this could be done.
The first two have already been used by the Dynamo this offseason, in trades and free agency. Free agency is not going to be a way to improve the roster greatly but there can be good depth for “free”. The trade for Artur demonstrated that some starters and key players can be found from other teams in MLS. The Dynamo have gathered a stockpile of allocation money and trading it to continue improving the roster would be a good way to spend that money. Houston is lacking depth in many positions, but especially at both fullbacks and attacking players. There are plenty of players around the league who might be bench options on most teams who could come to Houston and could get minutes, if not start. Pat Onstad and the front office must be looking around at the other 28 rosters in MLS and finding teams who would like some allocation dollars in exchange for players they see as surplus.
The third way the Dynamo could bring in players is the U22 initiative. MLS teams are allowed to sign up to three players under the age of 22 to lucrative contracts, at a reduced budget charge. Players can occupy a U22 slot through the season they turn 25 years old. International players can sign their first MLS contract as a U22 player. Many teams in MLS have had success with bringing in South American players through this initiative while the Dynamo have failed spectacularly with Bajamich and Thiago. With both players now off the roster, multiple U22 spots are open. If the Dynamo are going to bring in attacking players, more specifically wingers, this is the avenue they should be looking at. If new head coach Ben Olsen is going to play with a 10, an attacking midfielder, the scouts should be all over South America looking for an up-and-coming young player to fill that role. International roster spots could be an issue in bringing in some players from outside the US, the Dynamo look to already have their international spots filled, but they could get some in a trade for some of that allocation money stockpile we talked about earlier.
All of this leads us back to our original question, what’s next? What’s next, I’m afraid won’t be anything to “move the needle”. Unless there is a big signing of a youngster from a foreign club, the lack of DPs means the lack of the big name signing that a lot of the fan base may still be craving. The three DPs the Dynamo have are solid, but they need to build around them. That is what this offseason should be about. Whether it be more trades or signing players from outside MLS, these winter months should be about strengthening the roster to what Olsen needs to get this team back to a place where they are contending for a playoff spot next fall. Will that happen? We’ll see.