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)
For the second year in a row, the Houston Dynamo got to the doorstep of a MLS Cup triumph, only to come up short.
In a season that had its share of twist and turns, Houston began the campaign by overcoming a seven-game road trip and finished by falling, once again, to the LA Galaxy in the championship match at the Home Depot Center.
Along the way Houston put away any questions – as if there were any legitimate ones – about whether BBVA Compass Stadium (the club’s gem of a new home) would become a Dynamo fortress. Houston didn't lose a match at home, and 19 straight results later, the club has made the league’s newest soccer-specific stadium the latest house of horrors for visitors.
Houston also showed an increased flexibility in tactics and strategy, with a defensive lull in June prompting a move to a 4-3-3 that showed just how much flexibility head coach Dominic Kinnear’s roster boasts.
Despite a blip in the autumn months, the Dynamo reverted to the same tough-minded professionals everyone expects them to be come November.
With a motivated and dynamic core – led by Brad Davis, new starlet Boniek García, Bobby Boswell and stars for the present (no longer future) Will Bruin and Kofi Sarkodie, among others – leading the way, the success of the 2012 season appears to be within easy reach for the next few years.
Best Moment of the Year
The Dynamo completed a near seven-year journey on May 12, when they opened BBVA Compass Stadium. Finally, the stadium they moved from San Jose for in 2005 was a reality, and Houston opened their new home in style with a proper celebration and a masterful Davis strike from distance to defeat D.C. United 1-0, the first of 13 wins in an undefeated season at their new home.
Worst Moment of the Year
In early June, the Dynamo encountered their first real bout with adversity, giving up 11 goals in four games, three those opponents – FC Dallas, Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact – did not make the playoffs. The stretch shook Houston’s faith in their defense, one that many believed would be their greatest strength coming into the season. The stretch prompted a tactical change to the 4-3-3, which propelled a summer surge, but Houston was left with a lot of questions after that four-game stretch.
Just one in a long list of candidates, Adam Moffat’s bomb in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal series set the tone against Sporting Kansas City. After SKC failed to clear their lines, Moffat was set up by Bruin. Taking a touch away from goal, the Scot turned and blasted his best Moffat Rocket to date past MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Jimmy Nielsen, who was left to ask, “How on earth?"
Tally Hall continued to put his name on the MLS landscape in 2012, but his highlight came September 6 against Real Salt Lake’s Nat Borchers. With the clubs battling to a then-scoreless draw, Borchers connected with a snap header that threatened to give RSL the lead. Hall’s reaction, however, was perfectly times, arriving just in time to parry the ball away from danger and keep things even. Later, Colin Clark scored a penalty kick to take a full three points that proved crucial to Houston’s playoff qualification.
While Houston rode standout campaigns from many to MLS Cup, the MVP of the team remains Brad Davis. The captain was a consistent threat, surprising no one who pays attention, but in a different way during 2012. Always dangerous as a left-footed provider, he notched some truly spectacular goals on his way to recording a franchise-high eight on the season. In case there was any doubt, the 30-year-old isn't slowing down anytime soon.
For a year-and-a-half, the Dynamo chased Boniek García. After his June capture, everyone found out why. Starting his first match two days after arriving, García was a revelation in MLS and Houston found themselves a dynamic midfielder who brings enthusiasm and ball work few have seen from the Dynamo. Davis got this MVP nod, but the players' vote went to the Honduran. A full season with García manning the midfield in 2013 will be fun to watch.
1. Depth in central midfield: Houston found success with the pairing of Adam Moffat and Rico Clark, but the list of names is unsettled. Heading into another CONCACAF Champions League season, it is a question that must be cleared up this offseason. Can Giles Barnes be the player his potential suggests? Will Luiz Camargo be able to rediscover his 2011 form? Will either even be back?
2. Speed up top: With Mac Kandji out of contract and free to explore his options and Calen Carr (right) on the mend, Houston could look to improve their pace up top to compliment Bruin's runs and play in the 18-yard box.
3. Player worthy of allocation money: In many ways, Houston's starting XI is set, assuming good health, across the board. Still, the Dynamo have some flexibility after the sale of Geoff Cameron and their postseason and CCL success. Can they duplicate the García capture to propel their club to the next level?
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.