It seems better not to bore you with the standard preseason articles that track all the transactions that occurred or the expected starting lineup. Most fans know the team will play a 4-3-3 under new coach Wilmer Cabrera and Cubo Torres will likely start up top.
As a result, Keeper Notes wanted to do things a little different for our Dynamo Season preview. First, I highly recommend Kyle Nowotny’s season preview here at Keeper Notes. Here are ten questions the Dynamo need to answer in 2017:
1. How much more can Mauro Manotas take?
For two consecutive preseasons, Manotas has looked like the most potent forward on the team. The result? The bench. Last year it was Owen Coyle’s love affair with Giles Barnes and Will Bruin that kept Manotas on ice until August. When he finally thawed out, he scored six goals in ten games started, just a tick off the pace of Jozy Altidore or Giovanni Dos Santos. This year it’s the team’s attempt to recover what may be sunken cost in the Cubo Torres’ reclamation project likely to put Manotas on the bench. That’s not to say that Cubo hasn’t played well during preseason; he has played extremely well. It’s just that Manotas has been more electric against MLS competition. Cubo’s ability to hold up play and Manotas being a better option off the bench make Cubo starting more tolerable, but how much longer will the young Columbian DP tolerate playing for a franchise that seems to prefer its other options instead of rewarding on the field performance?
2. Who creates in the middle?
Houston has one glaring hole entering the preseason. It wanted to find a #10 to build a team around and it failed. Instead, it got younger and faster on the wings in Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto. As slow as Houston was last year on the wings, that is not a bad thing. However, to compete for an MLS Cup, the team needs either a play-maker or a late scoring threat into the box to keep the defense honest and create space for the three forwards. Chicago struggled with Alex in that role and Houston struggled with Ricardo Clark pushed forward as the attacking midfielder. Maybe the two taking turns in front of Juan David Cabezas will get the job done. I think Houston will experiment with Joe Holland, Eric Alexander, and Memo Rodriguez at some point during the season and it seems doubtful the team has the creative play-maker it needs to pull the strings and pick out the three fast and mobile forwards in front of him.
3. Can Juan David Cabezas pull back the aggression?
MLS is a physical league. It was only a few preseason games against MLS competition, but Juan David Cabezas stood out as a bruiser in Arizona. With any foreign acquisition, there is frequently a period of adjustment for most players to the speed and physicality of the league. If Cabezas can adjust, Houston will have a tough as nails defensive presence in midfield. If he can’t, Houston may end up with David Rocha 2.0.
4. Is AJ Delagarza the best Right Back to ever wear Orange?
I mean no disrespect to Richard Mulrooney, Adrian Serioux, Andrew Hainault, Brian Mullan, and I pray that Craig Waibel doesn’t smite me for asking the question (Editor’s Note: Sacrilege!). Each of those players were great players who were playing out of position. They played well, but were by no means a pure right back in the traditional sense of the word. Kofi Sarkodie had talent but it never materialized for him. Delagarza looked very solid in Arizona. As a result, it may not be too much of a stretch to say that Delagarza is the best right back in Dynamo history – but time will tell as only regular season and playoff performances earn credit.
5. Can Tyler Deric Rebound?
If Houston wants to be a playoff contender, the easiest path to making that happen is Tyler Deric having an extraordinary year. He has shown he is capable, but injuries plagued the Dynamo starting ‘keeper last season. Joe Willis was more than serviceable as a starter last year so Houston should be fine regardless. But a difference maker between the posts can answer several questions by himself.
6. Is Central Defense Good Enough?
New acquisition Adolfo Machado played well in Arizona, but has struggled with consistency at times at the national team level. Leonardo is an experienced defender that another MLS franchise just soured on. Agus played well last year in limited playing time. Jalil Anibaba has struggled to lock down starting spots in three prior franchises, but has little pressure as the fourth option off the bench. Defense wins championships.
7. Can the Houston Dynamo get off to a fast start?
Eight of eleven games at home to start the year followed up by one home game and five road games in their next six. Houston should know exactly where they stand on May 13, 2017 after their run of home games. Anything less than top three in the West at that point in the year, it might be a bad, bad omen for the men in Orange.
8. How many games does Houston get from Demarcus Beasley
Twenty four games last year and twenty eight games the year before may be lofty goals with Beasley another year older. The importance of Beasley can not be understated though. Houston played its best last year with Beasley in the lineup. While Houston’s acquisition of Dylan Remick provides some quality to replace him, relying on Remick to fill Beasley’s shoes for an extended period of time might be too big of an ask.
9. What the heck happened to Cristian Lucatero?
The most disappointing news during the Houston Dynamo preseason – Lucatero not traveling with the team to Arizona. Some hoped the talented youngster would take a leap forward especially with Houston’s lack of a creative attacking midfielder, but it looks like another year in RGVFC.
10. If the opener against Seattle does not sell out, is that a sign of trouble for the Houston Dynamo from a business perspective?
An exciting off-season, a good day weather-wise (Editor’s Note: Well, maybe), a night game, opening weekend, against the defending MLS Cup champions, and a team that features a relatively local hero. Yet it’s the Friday before kickoff and the game appears to not have sold out.
Further, there was no press conference this week revolving around the start of the year like there has been for I believe every year before this one. Maybe the team knows something we don’t? Winning cures all though and if the Houston Dynamo are competitive this year, ticket sales will tick upward soon enough as Houston loves a winner. If the team struggles though, how much longer of a leash does Matt Jordan or Chris Canetti have?
Dwain Capodice is a freelance writer covering the Houston Dynamo and the US National Team for Keeper Notes. He can be reached on twitter @dcapodice or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.