2016 MLS season preview: Houston Dynamo

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The Dynamo failed to reach the playoffs in Owen Coyle's first year in charge, but a busy offseason has led to renewed optimism for 2016.

2015 regular season: 8th Western Conference (15th overall)

MLS Cup odds: 50/1

Players in: Christian Lucatero (Homegrown), Cristian Maidana (Philadelphia Union, trade), Andrew Wenger (Philadelphia Union, trade), Calle Brown (free), Bradley Bourgeois (Homegrown), Jalil Anibaba (free), Sebastien Ibeagha (free), Agus (Albacete, free), David Rocha (Gimnastic, free), Aboulie Mansally (Real Salt Lake, trade), Collen Warner (Toronto FC, trade)

Players out: Michael Lisch (option declined), AJ Cochran (option declined), Jermaine Taylor (option declined), Luis Garrido (option declined), Alex López (option declined), Nathan Sturgis (option declined), Chandler Hoffman (option declined), Kofi Sarkodie (out of contract), Brad Davis (Sporting Kansas City, trade), Memo Rodriguez (waived), Taylor Hunter (waived), Rasheed Olabiyi (waived)

Owen Coyle’s first year in charge of the Houston Dynamo was largely expected to be a transition period for the club after an offseason of upheaval, and that’s exactly how things unfolded. The team struggled to find an identity while dealing with injuries and international call-ups, as the former Bolton Wanderers manager experimented with various line-ups and systems to try to keep his side in the playoff hunt. They weren’t officially eliminated from contention until the penultimate week of the regular season, but it’s fair to say that they never really looked like serious challengers either.

Some intriguing roster moves over the winter make them a team to watch heading into the new campaign, but whether all of 2015's problems have been fixed remains to be seen.

Reasons to be positive

The Dynamo were decidedly poor at creating chances last season, but they addressed that problem in December by trading for Philadelphia Union playmaker Cristian Maidana – albeit before shipping out long-time fan favourite Brad Davis. With the skilful Argentine in the No. 10 spot, Boniek Garcia on one flank, Giles Barnes slashing in from the other and players like Andrew Wenger and Leonel Miranda coming off the bench, the attack is looking in much better shape.

Up top, the consistent Will Bruin can generally be relied on to supply around 10 goals over the course of the campaign, while Mexico international Erick Torres has the potential to be the team’s talisman if he recaptures the form he showed with Chivas USA in 2014. However, should Coyle decide to go with a lone front man, he could be forced to settle for a super sub role.

Trouble on the horizon?

Houston conceded a conference-high 49 goals in 2015 and they could have similar problems this season. Injuries were in part to blame, as regulars DaMarcus Beasley, Raul Rodriguez and Sheanon Williams all missed time, but the backline still looked vulnerable even when Coyle had his first-choice XI. Spanish centre-back Agus and the versatile Jalil Anibaba have since been brought on board, but neither is likely to make much of a difference.

In fact, the problem could get even worse now the team are playing with a true No. 10 in Christian Maidana, whose significant defensive deficiencies will leave Ricardo Clark with a huge amount of ground to cover in the centre of the park. The veteran midfielder will have help from either Alex, David Rocha or Collen Warner if the team lines up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but none of them would be the ideal defensively-minded partner.

Goalkeeper Tyler Deric proved a revelation last season in his first extended run as a starter, racking up 14 Save of the Week nominations and seven clean sheets, but Houston can’t rely on him to bail them out every game.

Key man: Giles Barnes

Barnes made a sensational start to the 2015 campaign, looking like one of the league’s premiere attackers while netting six times in his first 14 appearances. However, playing at both the Copa America and Gold Cup over the summer left the Jamaica international noticeably drained for the second half of the season, as he managed just one more goal.

Thankfully, he only has to worry about the Copa Centenario this year, and having been handed the club captaincy following Davis’ move to Sporting Kansas City, the former Derby County starlet is primed to be the heart and soul of Coyle’s side.

One to watch: Mauro Manotas

Signed from Uniautonoma in his native Colombia last May, 20-year-old forward Manotas barely featured for the Dynamo during his first year in MLS, making just nine substitute appearances for a total of 102 minutes. However, the Under-20 international has since been showing his promise by netting five goals in preseason, and with his ability to play either up top or out wide, there could be a much bigger role for him in Houston this term.

Predicted regular season finish: 9th Western Conference

The Dynamo will certainly pose more of an attacking threat in 2016, but breaking into the top six in the West is no easy feat. Coyle may ultimately prove he’s the right man for the job in the long run, but his team simply isn’t strong enough at this stage to compete with the Conference’s elite.

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