2011 Houston Preview: Dynamo eye rebound year

The Tweet and Lowdown:

Youth, defense were priorities in an offseason full of change for the Houston Dynamo, but can they turn those changes into 2011 success?

Setting the Scene:

The Houston Dynamo’s 2010 season was a perfect case study for Murphy’s Law: Everything that could go wrong, did. Head coach Dominic Kinnear has built his teams around a stout defense, but last year's version allowed 49 goals and a number of late game-winning or tying goals.

On top of their defensive woes, the club lost stars Geoff Cameron and Brian Ching to injury for long stretches, and the first Designated Player in franchise history, Luis Ángel Landín, was released at midseason. Those issues combined equaled the club missing the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

[inline_node:325177]Kinnear & Co. took the offseason to re-evaluate their roster and committed to getting younger and overhauling their defense. Houston signed nine new players – four on the defensive side – dropping the club’s average age from 28 to 24.

The turnover means the club could have as many as six new starters on opening day. Staying healthy and getting younger will only take the Men in Orange so far: If they hope to get back to the postseason, the revamped defense will have to return to its stingy championship ways.

<strong>WATCH: <a href="http://www.mlssoccer.com/videos?catid=112&amp;id=12162" target="_blank">Houston make wholesale changes for 2011 season</a></strong>

Key Changes:

Players in: Alex Dixon (Home Grown player/University of North Carolina), Hunter Freeman (IK Start, Norway), Jason Garey (Columbus Crew), Jordan Graye (Portland Timbers), Will Bruin (Indiana University), Evan Newton (Old Dominion University), Kofi Sarkodie (University of Akron), Josue Soto (Home Grown player/Southern Methodist University), Jermaine Taylor (St. George's, Jamaica)

Players out: Sammy Appiah (declined option), Ryan Cochrane (New England), Richard Mulrooney (declined option), Joseph Ngwenya (D.C. United), Anthony Obodai (declined option), Pat Onstad (D.C. United), Adrian Serioux (declined option)

Coaching changes: Former assistant John Spencer is now at the helm of the expansion Portland Timbers.

Star Attraction: Geoff Cameron

Cameron is once again ready to take the keys to the Dynamo attack, and this time, he’ll do it in the spotlight. Opposing teams are well aware that Cameron is no longer just a player with potential but Houston’s most complete player. Coming off an injury-shortened 2010, his preseason play has teammates and coaches praising his creativity, vision and skill on the ball. If the dynamic midfielder stays healthy, he’s showing the ability to provide the same spark that former All-Stars Dwayne De Rosario and Stuart Holden once did in the center of the Dynamo attack.

[inline_node:329975]Unsung Hero: Lovel Palmer

Palmer may not be a household name around the league, but he’s vital to Kinnear’s plans. The Jamaican international is a versatile midfielder – he played three of the four midfield positions in 2010 – has the ability to impact the game from both wide and central positions.

Making 24 starts last season, Palmer showed he’s willing to do the type of work that former All-Star Ricardo Clark did for the Dynamo. He has the ability to both cover for a young Houston back line and support midfielders Cameron and Brad Davis in the attack.

Ready for Primetime: Jermaine Taylor

Taylor has the physical tools and experience – he has 37 caps for Jamaica – to make an immediate impact for the Dynamo. A physically imposing defender with good pace, the soft-spoken Taylor improves the athleticism on a back line that had trouble with speedy forwards in 2010.

In addition to his defensive ability, his sense of calm and play out of the back has drawn praise from coaches and teammates. With Taylor a favorite to land a starting spot at center back, he has the opportunity and physical ability to have a standout debut campaign in MLS.

Storylines to Watch:

Health is a concern, despite the club making significant steps to get younger. The Dynamo need proven starters Ching, Davis and Cameron – all three missed significant time last season – to stay healthy to have a successful 2011.

All eyes will be on the revamped defense this year. Replenishing the D was a top priority this offseason and three positions could see new starters. Newcomers Sarkodie, Taylor and Freeman will be counted on to play prominent roles in improving the second-worst MLS defense from last year.

Expectations are also high for midfield duo Cameron and Palmer. The Dynamo won two championships controlling the midfield with De Rosario, Clark and Holden. The evolution of the central midfield partnership will be vital to the club’s success in 2011.

<p><strong>WATCH: <a href="http://www.mlssoccer.com/videos?catid=112&amp;id=12163" target="_blank">Veteran Brian Ching mentors rookie Will Bruin</a></strong>

What He Said:

“We’ve got a lot of new faces this year and those guys have brought a great attitude. We’re going to go out and continue to play the way we do and try and keep that attitude throughout the season.”

– Midfielder Brad Davis

If Everything Goes Right:

The Dynamo are looking to return to the MLS Cup Playoffs and build momentum ahead of their move to a new, permanent home in 2012. Kinnear has assembled a talented and diverse young group, giving the two-time MLS Cup-winning coach depth and lineup options. If everything goes right, Houston will be heading back to the postseason, with a good chance of securing one of the three automatic playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

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