Nagamura out. It’s the cry on Twitter and Reddit across Houston of late. “It’s time to fire Nagamura, he has no idea what he’s doing.” Really? Well, that’s just silly, and bordering on insanity.
The Houston Dynamo have played 22 league matches under Paulo Nagamura, with a couple other USOC and friendlies mixed in. The Dynamo have won 7 of those 22 league matches, just under a third of them. Now, before we start yelling about Nagamura’s tactics, and his lineups, and the subs he makes, let’s take a step back and look at the whole picture.
First thing, the Dynamo are rebuilding from the fiasco that was the previous regime. Nagamura was hired as a chef of a fancy restaurant that has a pantry full of canned goods and fruit that fell off the delivery truck. (Don’t ask me who the rotten seafood is, there is no seafood in that pantry.) This roster is going to take much more than 22 games to overhaul. Heck, it’s going to take much more than this entire 2022 season to begin to see some positives. Let’s just look at what the Dynamo had on the bench Saturday night against Minnesota. This isn’t a slight against anyone, but Sebas Ferreira, Sam Junqua, Daniel Steres, Zeca, Memo Rodriguez, Ethan Bartlow, Darwin Ceren, Tyler Pasher, and Michael Nelson. We can have an argument about Ferreira and how he is being used (and I will get to a point on this later in this article) but, there is no depth on this roster. Again, this is not a slight on these guys, they’re solid players and the kinds of guys you need on rosters. But when you are down in a match like the Dynamo were on Saturday, there aren’t a lot of options to change a game (yes, Tyler Pasher at least should have come on). Nagamura is working with the cards he was dealt, and for the most part, he doesn’t really have a complete hand to play. Jurgen Klopp would have trouble getting this team to 12 wins, and that isn’t me being facetious.
Secondly, there is Hector Herrera. HH is a fantastic player, world-class even. That’s not the issue. The issue is, he doesn’t really fit on this roster. I get that having a Mexican star in this city is massive, and it can do wonders for this club (although they are going to need to start winning to keep that up), but strictly in an on-field since, they are shoving a round peg in a square hole. Coco Carrasquilla, Matias Vera, and even Darwin Ceren already play similar positions and roles to what Herrera brings. Herrera is obviously a huge upgrade to the midfield, but we have now seen Nagamura tinkering with the lineup to try and get the best of HH. This has led to Darwin Quintero playing in more of a “false 9” role with Fafa Picault and Thor Ulfarsson pushing in more as forwards than wingers. This has also led to the club-record signing being on the bench. Ferreira should be able to play with Herrera, I won’t argue that fact, but I also don’t blame Nagamura for trying to see what fits and where, especially in a season of rebuilding and while the league’s transfer window is open. Herrera is going to be here, so the front office is going to have to build around him to give Nagamura an eleven, and depth, to best utilize their star signing.
Lastly, what were the expectations for this team this season? Even the most die-hard, bayou-city-glasses-wearing fans, probably would have told you getting into the playoffs as the 6th or 7th seed would be amazing. The Dynamo are the 10th or 11th best team in the Western Conference. There isn’t anything wrong with that, again this team is having to rebuild a roster and a club from years of, quite frankly, lethargy. If you expected this team to be any better than they are right now in the 2022 season, I want some of your optimism in my life. The Dynamo rebuilt the entire front office staff this season, including hiring Nagamura. They hired a head coach who was previously coaching what amounts to a second team, with not a lot of results. Why is that? Because he was a coach put in the position to develop players. This isn’t going to just “happen” overnight. This team was not going to burst into MLS in 2022 and take the league by storm. Nagamura should be given time to see it through. Look at Austin FC, I know, you’re programmed to hate them. Verde fans were ready to run Josh Wolff out of town last year but look at them now. He’s been given time to develop the team, and himself as a coach (along with a nice roster build), and Austin is in second place in the Western Conference this season after finishing in twelfth last year.
Is Paulo Nagamura going to be the head coach of the Dynamo in five years when they are playing playoff games at PNC Stadium? I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is, he should be given time. Time to develop as a coach, time to develop the players he has, and time to work with the players who are still to be joining this team. The 2023 Houston Dynamo are going to look very different than the 2022 version. Nagamura will be much more fairly judged at this time next year. Until then, put the pitchforks down.