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Ditching the grit: Houston Dynamo looking to manage games more comfortably in 2014

HOUSTON – No one can argue with the Houston Dynamo's playoff success. Two MLS Cups, four Eastern Conference titles and an additional two appearances in conference title games speaks for itself.

The regular season, however, has often been a grind. While they have used their gritty style for playoff success, it makes for a long 34-game season. In addition, they haven't done themselves any favors with playoff seeding in recent years.

As the club starts preparation for 2014, the feeling is that they would like to do a little less grinding and the best way to do that is to make life easier during their weekly matches. 

“We didn’t have too many runaway wins last year,” head coach Dominic Kinnear told reporters on Monday. “Those are fun, for obvious reasons you like those. It builds confidence and shows you’re scoring goals in different areas of the game.”

Not being able to put teams away makes for more work with games that take more of a toll on the body. Instead of being able to manage games late with comfortable leads, the Dynamo have routinely been in 90-minute fights.

While the Dynamo were second in goal differential in the final 15 minutes of games at plus-9 last year, they rarely saw a game out with a comfortable lead. Of 14 wins, only five came by two goals or more. While only conceding a lead seven times – with a 3-1-3 record – it made for a grueling schedule.

“At times we had chances to push teams out, I’m not saying [our problem was lacking a] killer instinct,” Kinnear said. “I’m saying it's overall quality either playing with the lead or adding to it.”

Left back Corey Ashe echoed Kinnear’s sentiment: “I think sometimes last year it was like ‘Alright, we’ve got the lead we can settle.’ Like [Kinnear] said, if you have a one goal lead make that two or three, don’t settle.”

The club’s struggles can be attributed to several issues, as both health and absences took a significant toll. The Dynamo also had five players miss extended time due to international duty and several other contributors missed time due to injury, leading to a lack of cohesion and rhythm in the lineup.

With no CONCACAF Champions League to worry about this time around, however, the regular season can be addressed with a singular focus.

That means kicking teams while they are down and pushing for goals has to be the order of the day. It starts with goal scorers putting the ball in the back of the net – Houston were fifth in the league in shots (472) but 15th in goals (40).

“You look at teams such as New York that’ll keep punishing and punishing and punishing you,” said Ashe, who was part of the Dynamo team that dropped two home games to the Red Bulls by a combined 7-1 last season. “That’s where we need to get to. That drive, we’ll be hard to stop.”

Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.