Houston Dynamo 2014 Season Preview: 4 Things to Watch for This Season

Eduardo MendezCorrespondent IIFebruary 27, 2014

Houston Dynamo 2014 Season Preview: 4 Things to Watch for This Season

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    Eric Christian Smith/Getty Images

    The Houston Dynamo's dedication to the MLS regular season will be the club's story to watch in 2014, but what additional storylines will complete your season preview?

    In part 11 of our 19-part series, we will take an in-depth look at the most intriguing plots surrounding the Dynamo this season. The number and player to watch, as well as the match that should immediately be circled on your calendar, will be delved into with great detail.

    Read on for your comprehensive guide to 2014.

     

    Note: Unless otherwise mentioned, credit all statistics to Squawka. All data collected is licensed from Opta Sports.

Offseason Transactions

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    Bart Young/Getty Images

    Before we preview the coming year, here is MLS's complete list of offseason acquisitions and departures that helped mold this season's version of the club.

     

    Players In:

    DDavid HorstTrade from Portland
    DA.J. CochranMLS SuperDraft
    MTony CascioLoan from Colorado
    FMark SherrodMLS SuperDraft
    GKMichael LischMLS SuperDraft

     

    Players Out:

    FBrian ChingRetired
    DBobby BoswellOut of Contract
    FCalen CarrOut of Contract
    DMike ChabalaOption Declined
    MAlex DixonOption Declined
    FCam WeaverOption Declined

The Story to Watch: More Cruising and Less Snoozing in the Regular Season

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    There are three guarantees in life: Death, taxes and a playoff run from a Dom Kinnear-coached team.

    Just don't expect said playoff team to be convincing during the regular season.

    In each of the last two years, the Dynamo have barely qualified for the postseason. In 2012, it was a one-point cushion that saw Houston through to the play-in round against the Chicago Fire. Last season, it took a 2-1 victory over D.C. United in Week 35 to clinch the club's playoff berth. Getting to the postseason, regardless of the circumstance, appears to have become priority No. 1 in Houston.

    Dynamo supporters haven't had a healthy set of fingernails since 2011.

    That season, Houston finished second in the Eastern Conference and automatically clinched a spot in the conference semifinals.

    So the question is: Will the Orange crush finally crush in the regular season?

    There are a few things working in the club's favor entering 2014. First, there's no CONCACAF Champions League to inconvenience Coach Kinnear's priorities. The club's marginal turnover will allow continuity to play a role in this season's success, and there's a possibility Oscar Boniek Garcia is the only player on the roster that misses league action for the World Cup.

    With good health, the Dynamo have the opportunity to push for the top of the Eastern Conference.

    Assuming, of course, that's a priority.

The Number to Watch: 17

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    "Will Bruin finished with 25 goals last season and was the 2013 MLS Golden Boot winner."

    Now, that's a lede worth reading.

    Unfortunately for the 24-year-old, his season goal total fell from 12 in 2012 to eight in 2013. His regression proved to be a staggering one considering his shot total increased from 78 to 98. Even more staggering was the 17 big chances he missed last season, according to MLS fantasy editor Ben Jata.

    No other player in MLS had more.

    Bruin was far removed from his 2012 form. An Opta spotlight on MLS's official website stated that 11 of his 12 big chances were on target that season. His 58.4 percent conversion rate trailed only Kenny Cooper, Chris Pontius, Thierry Henry and Eddie Johnson.

    He was dubbed as the league's "next great goalscorer."

    That couldn't have been farther from the truth.

    But that also hasn't stopped Chris Canetti—club president of business operations for the Dynamo—from working behind the scenes to secure Bruin's future.

    Darrell Lovell carried the quotes on MLS's official website:

    Our goal and intention is to see if we can finalize new deals with them [Will Bruin and Kofi Sarkodie] and keep them in Houston for a long time. We see both Will and Kofi as key players to our future. We're in the process of trying to renegotiate contracts with each of them that will have them locked up for long-term extensions.

    At only 24, Bruin remains a young promising prospect.

    But in order to live up to the hype his play created in 2012, he'll have to turn those big chances into big goals in 2014.

The Player to Watch: Oscar Boniek Garcia

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    He was named the 2012 Latino del Ano. He was a key player for a Honduran national team that clinched only its third-ever World Cup berth. But above all else, he is the key member of the Houston Dynamo's midfield.

    Under the ascendancy of Oscar Boniek Garcia, the Dynamo have consistently remained contenders in the Eastern Conference.

    His 70 key passes in 2013 didn't just lead the club, it ranked him third among MLS midfielders. Only Graham Zusi (87) and Javier Morales (104) had more. Proving his worth on the defensive side of the ball, Garcia added 69 tackles last season—enough to land him at No. 8 under the same criteria.

    But the Honduran will have extra opportunities to shine in 2014.

    An aforemetioned World Cup berth will provide Garcia and his compatriots the opportunity to showcase to the world their development as a footballing nation. Honduras has the added benefit of landing in Group E with Switzerland, Ecuador and France.

    That's the same group U.S. men's national team fans forlornly prayed for the day of the draw.

    It was Los Catrachos, however, that landed safely.

    Now, whether the team can survive the group is something entirely different. But that won't matter for Garcia. A plethora of opportunities for both club and country will be his for the taking in 2014.

     

    Honorable Mention

    Tony Cascio became the first-ever intra-league loan in MLS history. The 23-year-old was sent to Houston by the Rapids after recording just 13 starts in 2013. With Garcia—and maybe even Brad Davis—missing time this summer for national team duty, expect Cascio to earn some opportunities of his own. 

The Match to Watch: Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting Kansas City

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    June 6, 2014.

    The Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City have met in each of the last three postseasons. It was the Dynamo who were the victors in the 2011 Conference finals. Kansas City would suffer yet another heartbreaking elimination in 2012. Revenge was finally there to be had in 2013.

    Sporting finally capitalized.  

    Unlike Houston, however, SKC took advantage of their playoff destiny. The elimination of the Dynamo in the Eastern Conference finals culminated in the club's first MLS Cup since 2000.

    A familiar foe will return to BBVA Compass Stadium, but this time as the reigning champions.

    Adding to this year's rivalry is the uncertainty of how often these two will do battle after 2014.

    Both New York City FC and Orlando City SC will be featured in an expanding Eastern Conference next season. A crowded 12 clubs will occupy the table. Meanwhile, the Western Conference will remain firm at nine. One Eastern Conference club must make the switch. 

    Expect that to be the Orange Crush.

    The Western Conference once housed the Dynamo from 2006-10. The club would transfer for the 2011 season and will likely be the prime candidate to shift over once again for 2015.

    So, enjoy as much of this rivalry as you can this season.

    There's no telling what a still-growing MLS will do to it in the coming years.

     

    Eduardo Mendez is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and analyst for Opta Sports. Follow him on Twitter for more insight on a variety of sports topics.