The Houston Dynamo kick off their 2011 campaign this Saturday at 7:30 pm, when they host the Philadelphia Union. The Orange look to rebound from an abysmal 2010 season, where they missed the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time since coming to Houston.
The team did have a busy offseason. The Dynamo broke ground on their downtown soccer-specific stadium and have made great progress on their training facilities just off of Highway 288. They also had a number of on-field changes. Overall, here are five reasons you should plan on watching the Dynamo host a playoff match in their final season at Roberston Stadium.
1. New crop of forwards
The question for the Dynamo since they first moved to Houston has always been, "who will they partner up with Brian Ching up top?" Last season, they used Dominic Oduro for much of the season. He along with Cam Weaver will be back; but they've brought in Jason Garey from Columbus and Will Bruin via the draft. They've all had great showings in the preseason, scoring multiple goals. Which leaves head coach Dominic Kinnear with one question, "who to partner up with Brian Ching up top?"
2. Defense looks sharp
The Dynamo went 8-1-3 during the preseason, mostly against MLS teams. Although the offense looked great, the defense looked much improved from last season, which wasn't hard to achieve. Like the offense, the defense saw a number of new players join the ranks. Jordan Graye came from DC United, Hunter Freeman came from Norway, Jermaine Taylor from Jamaica and Kofi Sarkodie was drafted from the NCAA champions, Akron. As veteran defender Bobby Boswell put it, "Whenever you have new guys, there's going to be different expectations. The biggest thing is conforming everyone's ideas into the same thing and I think you've seen that this preseason."
3. The Orange have gotten younger
The Dynamo were on average the oldest team during the 2010 season, an average of 28 years old. Although key veterans have gotten a year older, the average age of the 2011 Dynamo squad is 24, now one of the youngest. Along with Sarkodie and Bruin, the Dynamo also signed local Houstonians Josue Soto and Alex Dixon from their Academy. Sarkodie and Francisco Navas Cobo are still teenagers at 19 years old each. All these young pups will see playing time this season, which should bring a lot more speed and athleticism to a team that was at times lacking it last season.
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4. The team will play fewer games
MLS once again expanded this season with the additions of the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps. The season has expanded from 38 games last season to 40 games this season, which means more regular season games for the Orange. Despite that, the team will actually play fewer games in 2011. The Dynamo will not be participating in the CONCACAF Champions League or SuperLiga this year. In fact, their only commitments this season are MLS and the US Open Cup. As a result, the Dynamo should be more rested as opposed to seasons past.
5. More playoff spots
Because of the addition of the Timbers and Whitecaps, the Dynamo were moved to the Eastern Conference. None of it really matters, since MLS will have a balanced schedule this year. What does matter is that there will be 10 teams in the playoffs this year. The top two teams from each conference automatically qualify, then it's the next best six. Considering the Dynamo were rarely blown out last season, an improved Dynamo squad should have no problem being one of the top 10 teams in the league.