No clash of styles: Houston find blend of skill, physicality

HOUSTON – While the LA Galaxy are widely considered the glamor club of Major League Soccer, the Houston Dynamo are more often described with modifiers like “physical,” “aggressive,” “straightforward,” “disciplined,” “direct,” and “blue-collar.”

Ahead of Saturday's MLS Cup (4:30 pm ET; ESPN, Telefutura in the US; TSN and RDS in Canada), they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“[Articles] were saying that it was going to be a physical game and … that was going to benefit us because we’re a hard-nosed team. They were saying that maybe our style isn’t as pretty as somebody else’s, and I take that as a real compliment,” said assistant coach Wade Barrett, the club captain from 2006-09. “You know what it takes to win MLS Cup? It takes fighting hard on every single play. I think that’s something that Dominic Kinnear teams do every single time they step on the field is fight and scrap for every single ball.”

Between the Lines: The Higher Ground

Barrett certainly knows about winning championships, having won three MLS Cup titles – twice accepting the trophy himself as Dynamo captain – five conference championships as a player or coach, and the 2005 Supporters’ Shield with San Jose.

But while he embraces a dogged mentality, he said the team’s technical quality, improved since back-to-back championships in 2006-07, often goes unrecognized.

“This is a very technically good team; we have some really technically good players,” Barrett said. “Maybe we had a bit less of that back in the day. … We had a very good, hard-working team. But you see how Brad [Davis] is playing, you see how Boniek [García] plays. We still have the grit that Ricardo [Clark] and Adam [Moffat] bring and the leadership at the back, so all those things are a little bit the same, but the parts are a little bit different.”

To the Dynamo, labels like “industrious” and “hard-working” are accurate, but they do not tell the whole tale. Pieces like the dribbling moves from Davis and García, short-hop finishes to the top corner from Bruin, and the uncanny positioning and anticipation of Jermaine Taylor get overlooked and ignored due to the club’s effective pragmatism.

READ: Healthy and headstrong, Davis gets second chance at Cup

Defender Bobby Boswell, himself almost a stereotypical Houston player thanks to his size, strength, and physicality, said Houston can and does adapt its game to each opponent and situation.

“We always try to keep the ball, contrary to popular belief,” Boswell said wryly. “We try to play possession, but sometimes the game doesn’t allow that to happen. … We take what the game gives us and don’t try to complicate it too much.”

Boswell’s Defender of the Year video at the team’s awards banquet on Tuesday night may have consisted mostly of fouls and collisions, but he has repeatedly shown the ability this season to make dangerous runs with the ball deep into the opposing half – a paradigm of the team he leads so vocally, perhaps.

The Dynamo’s increased technical ability has shown up in the possession numbers this season, with forward Calen Carr pointedly noting that the Dynamo had more possession than their opponent in 27 of 34 regular-season games, a statistic that includes the 60.3 percent of the possession Houston had in their May 26 game against the Galaxy.

“If you look at the possession statistics from last year to this year, we keep the ball a lot better,” Carr said. “We’ve been one of the better teams in the league as far as our possession goes, which I think goes a little bit unnoticed.”

Possession alone may not be the answer. After all, the Dynamo had more of the ball in last year’s final (53.4 percent), but the game turned when LA moved Landon Donovan to forward, sacrificing midfield possession in favor of their deadly counter-attack. So while LA may be favored, Houston is a good bet to have more possession in this year’s final.

Whether that turns into a win remains to be seen, but the Dynamo don’t mind being called gritty, direct, blue-collar, or scrappy. As long as they can call themselves champions.