The 2010 MLS season is upon us, and there is plenty of reasons to smile if you're the Houston Dynamo. For one, the players union and the owners just recently agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement, avoiding a players' labor strike before the start of the season.
Then there's the entire stadium buzz. On Thursday, the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority agreed to take on a limited administrative role for the proposed downtown stadium. That means they'll oversee the construction process, and then become the landlords once the facility is complete. All that's left now is for Commissioner's Court and the City Council to approve $10 million apiece for infrastructure improvements, and the stadium will be a done deal. The Dynamo expect the stadium to be completed in time for the 2012 season.
On the field, there will be some changes for the 2010 season. Gone are Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark, two players expected to play for the United States in this summer's FIFA World Cup. Their absence is going to leave a huge hole in the center of field, and it'll be interesting to see how the Dynamo fill that gap. There's also the departure of team captain Wade Barrett, who decided to retire yesterday after 12 years of professional soccer. He accepted an assistant coaching position with the team.
To fill the void left by Holden and Clark, the Dynamo plan to use a combination of experience and youth. Back from knee surgery is veteran Richard Mulrooney, who will likely take over the defense midfield spot left vacant by Clark. Geoff Cameron - who was a finalist for 2009 MLS Defender of the Year - will slide in central midfield. Brian Mullan will stay in the right side of the midfield, Brad Davis will provide service into the box from the left side. Head coach Dominic Kinnear has given plenty of minutes to the young midfielders during the preseason, and they looked more than capable of holding their own when called upon. Corey Ashe and Danny Cruz can add speed on the flanks, particularly late in games. Francisco Navas Cobo has the ability to be a creative attacking midfielder, while Sammy Appiah and Lovel Palmer can lock down the central midfield.
On defense, the Dynamo look to be a formidable foe again. The stingiest defense for three years running remains pretty much intact, outside of Barrett's retirement. Bobby Boswell will man the central defense. From there, Kinnear has plenty of options. Ryan Cochrane, Adrian Serioux, and Eddie Robinson, who's back from an injury-plagued 2009 season, can all play as central defenders. Mike Chabala, Craig Waibel, and Andrew Hainault will man the flanks. Keeping all of them in check will be Pat Onstad, arguably the league's best goalkeeper the past four seasons.
Where the goals come from will key for the Orange. Brian Ching is the only forward who was on last season's opening day roster. The other forwards were acquired after the halfway point last season. Now they've had a full preseason to train together, so there shouldn't be chemistry issues. Luis Angel Landin is expected to perform much better than his disappointing debut season last year. If the service is great from the midfield, Landin's finishing can be lethal. Cam Weaver should a tremendous ability to finish in the box last season, however injuries hindered his performance. Weaver will start the season on the injury list. Dominic Oduro has the capability to be this year's breakout player. Oduro's quickness is a change of pace from the target-type forwards that Ching, Landin, and Weaver are. His speed opens up the game and provides the other forwards with one-on-one coverage to exploit.
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Now of course, all this is assuming these players click on all cylinders. The defense should and will remain a tough line to break, and for that reason alone the Dynamo should be contending for a third title. However, scoring goals will be the big question mark. Will the midfield be able to control the match by possessing the ball? Will the forwards be able finish when given the opportunity?
The Western Conference should be stronger than the East this season, but with different players. The LA Galaxy will be without David Beckham for the majority of the year due to injury; he was the big catalyst that propelled them to the MLS Cup last season when he returned from his loan stint with AC Milan. Last season, the Galaxy were 5-3-9 before Becks arrived, and 9-3-5 afterwards. Chivas USA has gone through major changes in player and coaching personnel. Defending MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake have always been a poor road team, and now they'll have a big bull's eye on themselves. Interstate rival FC Dallas finished the season strong, albeit too late to make the playoffs. Will their late season surge spill over into this season? Seattle Sounders are the only team that stay intact, and had an impressive 2-0 victory over expansion Philadelphia Union on Thursday night to open the season.
Seattle should be the favorites to win the top spot in the West this year, and the rest is up for grabs. The Dynamo should take the second spot, followed by RSL and the Galaxy. Look for FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids to challenge the other playoff spots, like RSL did last season.
Another long season is upon us, and all this writer can say is "dale, dale, dale Dynamo!" - go, go, go Dynamo en ingles.