Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Dynamo Data

A redoubtable Houston Dynamo fan named Marty, who runs an informative blog dedicated to his MLS side, has kindly offered to provide some information on the Houston team, which faces Sydney FC in their opening encounter in this week's Pan-Pacific Championships in Hawaii.

The following will, I realise, be mainly of interest to Sydney FC fans, but I hope that others will find the brief excursion into the world of the MLS and its development salutary as well. My questions to Marty are in italics, his answers in bold.

1. How would you describe Houston Dynamo's style of play? Would you consider it typical of American football as a whole?

Dynamo, who almost always play in coach Dominic Kinnear's preferred 4-4-2, are led in no small measure by an attacking, mobile midfield, with attacks coming from the wing coupled with a solid defensive presence in the back. The team set an MLS record last year for most consecutive minutes without giving up a goal (726 minutes), which could only have been accomplished by a stout team approach on defense (coupled with some luck in all truthfulness, as all such streaks are!).

MLS teams in general are known for a physical style of play, often at the expense both of creativity on the attack and ball skills, and Dynamo is certainly no exception to that. Defenders establish their presence physically and contest almost all balls, often drawing fouls near the midline, though much fewer at the back. It's an intense approach, but it fits Dynamo's personnel, though it does bring concomitant injury problems and the occasional yellow card accumulations over the course of a long season.

2. Brian Ching is obviously a key player for Dynamo, is there anyone else we should watch out for?

Being in preseason, Dynamo's roster might be in some flux as the coaches give bubble players their shots at making the team. But one player in particular to watch out for is attacking midfielder Dwayne De Rosario. The three-time Canadian player of the year scored the winning goal at MLS Cup off a snap header (rare for him, as he almost always scores with his feet). For his effort, he was named Man of the Match, becoming the first player to earn that honor in two separate MLS Cup Finals. He is a flowing, attacking player, who at times can seem silent, then emerges out of nowhere to create an opening or fire home a winner.

Also in midfield, Ricardo Clark, a US national team regular, is a force at holding mid. Speedy, strong and a real presence. In defense, center back Eddie Robinson will be the player you might just love to hate. Tough and ranging around the field, Eddie will always push the envelope between physical play and true fouls, but rarely if ever hurts the team. Aside from keeper Pat Onstad, if you had to choose one player most responsible for last season's scoreless streak, it would be Robinson. On the wings, look for speed on the right from Brian Mullan (coming off offseason surgery though, so perhaps not so speedy) and Stuart Holden and Brad Davis on the left.

3. How exactly does the draft system work in U.S. football, and how has it affected Houston Dynamo specifically?

The draft system in MLS includes college players and those just out of high school, to the best of my understanding (though I might be in error here). Player development is a polyglot of emerging team academies, independent club squads and overseas scouting. Dynamo have no significant players that have come up in the last two years, though almost all had college experience at some point before they were called up into MLS. For theirpart, Dynamo rely less on overseas scouting (with the exception, it seems, of Scotland as head coach Dom Kinnear has family there and top assistant John Spencer is Scottish), and more on finding unsung domestic players.

Almost all Dynamo players are either American or Canadian, with a few (Holden, keeper Tony Caig) with Scottish roots.

4. Houston Dynamo is only two and a half years old as a club (Sydney FC is not much older); has there been time to develop a specific culture/identity, either on or off the field?

Dynamo's onfield identity was forged during the franchise's time as the San Jose Earthquakes, and is described above, flowing midfield on the attack with a tenacious defense in the back. Off the field, the team has really woken up the soccer community in Houston. Dynamo's fan base is primarily a mix of urban Hispanics and suburban whites (though as an urban white guy myself, I kind of straddle both, I guess!). Winning draws all types, and all Dynamo have done since they've been here is win (two championships in two years), so many of us are wondering how the culture of the club will change over time since, clearly, they won't win every year!

But one thing seems true at least, Dynamo have drawn beyond their wildest dreams here. Their last three home games (last October and November) were sellouts (30,000+). The supporters' groups are large and growing (judging from comments on their web sites). The city's once-nascent soccer community is coming into full flower as more and more rec fields are being built and Dynamo are in advanced stages to build a downtown, urban home stadium. Almost none of that was predicted in any serious way when they arrived two years ago. They are clearly more successful in winning over the city's hearts and minds than many (including myself) could have predicted.

5. Do you think the Pan-Pacs will be useful for spreading the Dynamo "brand", or are they just good preparation for the 2008 MLS season?

Both. First and foremost, the games are preseason matches and will be seen as what they are, meaningless international friendlies. But on the other hand, the team has developed a culture of success and will be out to win. This is especially true with Brian Ching. The man, along with De Rosario, has become the face of the organization. Playing in his home of Hawaii is a big, big deal to him, and thus has become a big, big deal to the organization. Winning at this tournament will further cement the team's status as the preeminent squad in MLS at this time and give hope for the season. That being said, the perspective is the same, preparation for a long year. Dynamo will be in no less than four tournaments (two in CONCACAF alone as the region transitions from a Champions Cup tournament to a Champions League, both of which Dynamo will play in) in addition to MLS this year. So while winning would have its benefits, playing well and developing the team is the larger goal.

Thanks - that was interesting - even for a non SFC fan!
Very interesting, thanks Mike and Marty...if only it was on the box here :-(

Just love the American play on football terminology...

Sounds like Marty's impression of the MLS is very much similar to the one many fans here have of our own league...probably a little too physical for it's own good, power at the expense of finesse...certainly thats the impression I got from watching a few espn snippets towards the end of the most recent MLS season...

Sounds like this tourni, understandably so, will be used as part of the building for next season....

The notion that Kosmina is planning/thinking of using Brosque in midfeild/midline suggests so...or perhaps he's also heard similar sentiments about Houston's rugged defence and wants to keep Brosque away from Eddie Robinson - is he the new Kevin Harmse?

Enjoy the game Marty and look forward to reading your impressions...
Yeah, in my limited looks at the A-League, I think the leagues are pretty similar in many ways.

Oh, and on other thing I'd like to add guys is Good Luck to Sydney FC.... (for Saturday's game that is, if I'm going to be brutally honest!)

And a small question that perhaps someone over here can answer for me. I am a somewhat avid follower of Celtic in Glasgow. Did Scott McDonald ever play for the Socceroos? Just curious.

Looking forward to tonight. I think it's going to be a fun game.
Scott McDonald has recently got his first few Aus NT call-ups, will certainly be a big part of it's future.

I hate this Brosque to LM nonsense. He hates it, and I hate it because having a left foot doesn't make you a winger. He can't cross, is not inclined to get to by-line and for some mysterious reason never takes his man on.

Fair enough, trial it so that Vidaic, Santa and co can get some game time up front in this play around tournament, but he best be back with a decent partner up front (in Bridge/Giraldi) next season.
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