The 2016 Houston Dynamo officially open their preseason today at Houston Sports Park. Houston has undergone a bit of a face lift after the team finished in eighth place in a ten team Western Conference last year, although that face lift is not quite officially complete.
As Leo Ponce with Keeper Notes reported this weekend, Spanish players David Rocha and Agus will join the team this week despite no formal announcement yet.
Houston’s two draft picks are unsigned, as Ivan Magalhaes and TJ Casner will have to earn their contracts. That becomes a very difficult task for Magalhaes, who would count against the teams international roster spots. Last year, Houston’s second round pick Oumar Ballo was cut in April to clear an international roster spot. Leonel Miranda’s likely return along with the acquisitions of Rocha and Agus has Houston with eight international roster spots filled.
Houston enters the preseason officially with 27 of 28 roster spots filled, although they can carry more than 28 during the preseason as decisions are made to retain or release players. Taking a look at the current status of the roster:
Midfield: Ricardo Clark, David Rocha, Christian Maidana, Christian Lucatero, Alex, Boniek Garcia, Rob Lovejoy, Leonel Miranda, Rasheed Olabiyi, Memo Rodriguez, Zach Steinberger,
The position group that is likely getting the biggest face lift is the Houston Dynamo midfield. Brad Davis has taken his talents home to Kansas City and Houston will look for Christian Maidana to fill the gap left by the departure of the former face of the franchise. Also gone are Luis Garrido, Alex Lopez, and Nathan Sturgis. Lopez returned to Olimpia in Honduras and Sturgis is attempting to snag a roster spot with the Seattle Sounders this preseason.
Ricardo Clark looks to pivot to his more traditional defensive midfield position after exceeding expectations in a more attacking role last year to allow Maidana to play as Houston’s first true #10 since the departure of Dwayne DeRosario. New acquisition David Rocha will likely partner next to Clark, but Alex and Boniek Garcia will push the team’s new acquisition for playing time.
The best part of Houston’s roster to watch this preseason would be the growth of the team’s young midfielders. Leonel Miranda, Rasheed Olabiyi, and Rob Lovejoy each showed glimpses in their first year in MLS. Zach Steinberger and Memo Rodriguez both performed well while on loan and should be confident they can earn playing time this preseason and contribute. Chrisitan Lucatero has all the potential in the world to be Houston’s first legitimate Dynamo Academy success even though he is currently targeted to be heading to RGVFC.
Defense: Demarcus Beasley, Sheannon Williams, Raul Rodriguez, David Horst, Jalil Anibaba, Taylor Hunter, Bradley Bourgeois, Ivan Magalhaes and Agus
Houston has brought in Jalil Anibaba, Bradley Bourgeois, and Agus. Like most foreign player acquisitions, Agus is an unknown. The Dynamo passed on securing the rights to Jalil Anibaba in the second round of the re-entry draft so he was not the team’s first option. However, he is a solid enough player who can provide depth in central defense and on the right. Bourgeois and Magalhaes will have an uphill battle to earn playing time, but their youth and athleticism may be desperately needed in a pinch. Jermaine Taylor is in Portland. AJ Cochran and Kofi Sarkodie have yet to pop up on other teams MLS preseason rosters.
Forward: Cubo Torres, Giles Barnes, Will Bruin, Mauro Manotas, Andrew Wenger, TJ Casner
Chandler Hoffman is the only departure from last years roster of forwards. Giles Barnes is expected to play more time on the wing, along with newly arrived Andrew Wenger, so the burden will fall on Will Bruin and Cubo Torres to carry the load as Houston’s lone forward.
If Houston gets the same contribution from Cubo Torres in 2016 that it got from him in 2015, he may begin to rival Luis Landin in Dynamo DP folklore. Cubo continues to succeed on the international level despite his inability to crack the Dynamo starting line-up the second half of last year so that seems very, very unlikely. Hopefully a full MLS preseason with his teammates will allow Torres to settle in.
Manotas is the sleeper in the forward pool as the young forward came on at the end of last season scoring twice in the Charities Cup. Casner will have to earn his contract with the team.
Goalkeeper: Tyler Deric, Joe Willis, Calle Brown
Out is Micheal Lisch, replaced by Calle Brown. Lisch’s twitter account talks about the end of his soccer journey so it would appear no other MLS team picked him up. Calle Brown is a talented young ‘keeper who Dynamo goalkeeping coach Paul Rogers has hand-picked. Brown spent a season with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds following a remarkable run in his senior year to the NCAA Championship game with the Virginia Cavaliers.
While this off-season lacks the acquisition that energizes a fan base, Matt Jordan has assembled a roster that is much better suited to Owen Coyle’s preferred 4-5-1 formation and tactics. Houston fans should be excited to see some of Houston’s younger players blossom as the season progresses. Whether the whole of the team will be enough to get the Dynamo back to the playoffs remains to be seen, however the potential is there.
Dwain Capodice is a freelance writer covering the Houston Dynamo and the US National Team for Keeper Notes and also serves as the Fan Blogger covering soccer at Chron.com. He can be reached on twitter @dcapodice or via email at email@example.com.