Opta Spotlight: Is Bruin MLS' next great goalscorer?
Over the next three weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2012 record: 14-9-11 (53 points); 48 GF / 41 GA (+7 GD)
2012 Houston Dynamo Average Position
As is well documented, Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear went back and forth between his customary 4-4-2 and 4-3-3, skewing the average position graphic above.
No matter. There are still a few things to take away.
First, Will Bruin (12) proved during 2012 that he could lead the line, also evidenced by his positioning above: front and center. Second, right back will certainly trend wider on the 2013 edition of this graphic. Andre Hainault (31) split time in the middle and at right back, and Kofi Sarkodie appears to have taken ownership on the right. He'll hug the sideline much more.
Finally, it shouldn't be a surprise that Brad Davis (11) and Boniek García (27) were so successful guiding the Dynamo attack. Tucked into the channels and in the gap between the backline and midfield, they were extremely difficult to track and were equally effective centrally as well as on the flanks.
2012 Houston Dynamo Passing Matrix (Download HERE)
The Dynamo led MLS in successful passes in 2012. Now there's something nobody would have seen coming a couple years ago. But haven't you heard? Houston play pretty soccer now.
How'd they do it? Mostly by playing out of the back instead of hoofing the ball forward, as had been the habit at times during seasons past. Six players – Hainault, Corey Ashe, Bobby Boswell, Jermaine Taylor, Adam Moffat and Davis – finished the season with more than 1,000 successful passes. Garcia nearly joined that group despite playing just 17 games.
Unsurprisingly, the attack ran through Davis and García. That duo did the majority of the distribution to Bruin, Mac Kandji, Calen Carr and Brian Ching, with the outside backs providing plenty of routes forward as well.
1) Houston defended less as a side effect of all of those passes
Well, not less. Just in a different manner than most teams. Essentially, the Dynamo used possession as a defensive tool; if you're opponent doesn't have the ball, they can't score.
Houston finished last in MLS in CBI (clearances, blocks and interceptions) and sixth to last in tackles ... and yet they were once again one of the league's best defenses despite an midseason blip in form that ballooned their goals against total.
Most of the measurable defending (CBI and tackles) came, unsurprisingly, from Taylor and Boswell in the middle, the only two players on the team with more than 165 CBI and 50 tackles attempted.
2) Brad Davis, the Dynamo's ageless wonder
He may be on the wrong side of 30, that imaginary number that implies imminent decline, but Davis doesn't appear to be slowing down at all.
The 31-year-old midfielder led Houston with 69 chances created, was third in successful passes with 1,244, second in shots (44) and shots on target (22) and set a career high with eight goals.
Of course, his 95 successful crosses led the Dynamo as well. All this from a player who just finished his 11th season in the league, and is well on his way to sealing a spot among MLS' all-time greats (43 goals and 92 assists in nearly 300 games).
3) Will Bruin is MLS' next great goalscorer
He looks kind of funny when he runs. He's not particularly fast or especially quick. His hold-up play is still so-so. But get Bruin in the box with a chance to shoot, and he's one of the league's best.
That's exactly what Houston need from the Dancing Bear, a willing runner and pest high up the field to help win back possession then embark on the kinds of runs that Davis and García delight in picking out. You can't argue with 18 goals in all competitions and 12 in the league.
And when Bruin gets a chance, he's almost guaranteed to hit the target (11 of 12 big chances on target). Among the top 20 players in MLS in big chances – opportunities expected be converted – Bruin (58.4 percent) trailed only Kenny Cooper, Chris Pontius, Thierry Henry and Eddie Johnson in conversion percentage.
The Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle says Bruin will get 200 goals during his MLS career. I'm not so sure, but we may be seeing the early days of one of the league's best in the box.
Random nugget: Likely due to the addition of García, Houston recorded 168 successful dribbles in 2012 compared to 92 in 2011.