At the forefront of discussion was the club’s evident offensive struggles. Forward Will Bruin has become Houston’s primary target, and after a year that saw a decline in production, the fourth year striker is ready to put 2013 behind him.
In an exclusive interview with Keeper Notes, Bruin acknowledged last season was rough for the Dynamo and him personally.
“It was a year of ups and downs, both for the team and me,” he admitted.
After scoring a career high 16 goals across all competitions in 2012, Bruin’s numbers dropped to 10 in 2013.
“I didn’t finish with as many goals as I would have liked. Sixteen in all competitions the year before and 10 last year, so at least I still made the double digit mark counting postseason,” he said.
It’s impossible to determine what was the cause for the drop, but playing in an unfamiliar formation certainly hindered Bruin’s performance.
“Last year, that was the first time I’ve ever played as a lone striker in the 4-3-3, so it was different,” Bruin said of his struggles. “It was kind of a year of learning how the system goes.”
Head coach Dominic Kinnear has options heading into the new season, with a stacked midfield and a host of players that can successfully slot in to either formation. For either style of play, Bruin says he’s ready.
“Now I feel a lot more comfortable in it,” he said of the 4-3-3. “If Dom decides to go 4-3-3 or 4-4-2, whichever one he goes with I’ll be comfortable in.”
Additionally, Bruin’s preferred partner – a speedy striker that draws defenders away from him – wasn’t available with Omar Cummings experiencing setbacks with injury. While his partnership with Giles Barnes was productive, he acknowledged that Cummings’ skill set adds a unique threat to the Dynamo attack.
“I think we saw at the end of last year when Omar was coming back from injury, his speed and pace coming off the bench gives the whole game a different dynamic,” Bruin said.
“Whatever Dom decides to do this year, whether he starts the game that’s awesome, because he’s just going to run defenders, run defenders, run defenders. If he brings him on later in the game, defenders are tired; he’s still going to run them. Having that aspect of a speedy forward is huge for our team.”
It’s hard to tell from preseason action just how Cummings will be utilized. Barnes could slot into a more central midfield role, but Houston has a competitive midfield filled with solid players vying for playing time.
Either way, Cummings looks to play a big role for Houston in 2014.
“We’re really looking forward to having him healthy this year,” Bruin added.
The largest voids to fill will be those of Brian Ching and Bobby Boswell. Both were seen as leaders in Dynamo circles – on and off the field. Ching has moved on from his professional soccer career and into the Houston Dash front office, while Boswell is back at D.C. United after being selected in the MLS Re-Entry Draft.
“Bobby was a vocal leader, he talked a lot which was good – it’s something you need. And Ching was more lead by example,” he said of his former teammates.
As for Bruin, he’s ready to step into the leadership role for Houston in any manner that’s needed. He says he relates more to Ching’s type of leadership, but is capable of being a vocal leader as well.
“I’ve been more like Ching and lead by example. Work hard at practice and let guys see how you carry yourself and how you’re supposed to be a professional day in and day out,” Bruin said.
“I think the talking will come,” he added. “This is my fourth year, I’m 24, but I feel like I’ve been around a lot longer. The talking will come with taking on more of a leadership role at trainings. As the year progresses, we’ll start to see how some of the other guys kind of take that leadership role.”
Bruin added veteran defender Corey Ashe has already shown he’s ready to step into Boswell’s spot as one of the more vocal players on the team, but if needed, he’ll add to that.
“I think Corey is going to be really good at being the vocal guy this year. If it needs to happen, I can definitely take on more of a role of a vocal leader as well.”
Looking ahead at the 2014 season, Bruin is somewhat relieved to have a break from the CONCACAF Champions League and discussed some of the downside of being in the international competition year after year.
“I think that will keep us a little more rested throughout the year,” Bruin said about Houston’s absence from the CCL. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve been in the CONCACAF Champions League. It makes for a busy schedule because it’s a lot of midweek travel and games. Sometimes you’re not as fresh as you should be when the league games come. It’ll be nice to have an off year from it. I’m sure we’ll be back in it pretty soon.”
This season, Houston has partnered with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds from USL PRO and the affiliation will benefit both organizations in a number of ways. According to the press release, the Dynamo will send a minimum of four players to Pittsburgh and Bruin sees nothing but positives in the deal.
“I think it’s really good,” Bruin said. “I think it’s really good the league got away from the Reserve League and then they got this. I think with the partnership with USL PRO, I think it’s going to be a lot better because the games are going to be competitive. Guys are gonna be wanting to play.”While Dominic Kinnear hasn’t released the names of the players who will join Pittsburgh for the upcoming year, some of Bruin’s newer teammates – like fellow forward Mark Sherrod – will likely experience some time on loan.
In regards to the new faces in camp, Bruin said, “I’ve been impressed with them all. I think we got a good new group of guys that are in. All the draft picks are good and seem like they’re willing to learn and want to improve.”
“I think everybody does a really good job at battling for spots,” he added about the competition for playing time. “That’s something that you want to make tough on Dom, and I think we have a pretty good squad to do that this year.”
As for Bruin personally, he’s got a big year in front of him. When you think about his transformation into one of Houston’s veteran leaders plus his name mentioned frequently as one of the top young strikers in MLS – pressure is on to improve year after year.
“I would like to be in the 15 [goals] plus range every year and that’s something I want to improve on this year,” he said of his goals for the upcoming MLS season.
The vision Bruin has for himself, however, is much more robust than a simple number of goals scored. He wants to improve his technical game, which will help the Dynamo in a number of ways and increase his chances in front of goal.
“I want to be less predictable,” he stressed. “I think teams starting thinking I went to my right a lot, so I wanted to try and vary it up and go to my left and get defenders thinking which way is he gonna go. That’s something that always works to your benefit.”
“I want to be a big spark in the attack,” he added. “I want to be able to be a playmaker. Not just a lone goal scorer that is getting on the end of crosses. I want to be able to get other players involved, be a distributor, and a creative player as opposed to just scoring.”
When he thinks of the team and accomplishments to achieve, he quickly points to the way Houston has entered the playoffs the last couple seasons.
“Personally I’m sick of playing the play-in game of the playoffs,” he admitted. “I want to be top of the East.”
With preseason winding down and the start of the season just a few weeks away, Bruin and the Dynamo are aiming to improve on last season and most importantly – ensure more consistency around results.
Houston opens its 2014 campaign against the New England Revolution at BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday, March 8.