HOUSTON – In the spring of 2011, Omar Cummings was looking to start anew. Not out of necessity – he was coming off an MLS Cup championship with the Colorado Rapids, after all – but to begin his European adventure.
Cummings was the star of the Rapids' 2010 title run as a speedy forward with a sharp finishing touch. His 14 goals landed him a trial with Aston Villa and it looked like a move was imminent.
Then the process got in the way.
A failed attempt at a British work permit stalled Cummings' move and in a snap he was back in Denver, a place he holds affection for, with a team that was trying to hold the standard after its best season on record.
In the two years since, things have taken a downward turn. Cummings scored nine goals in two injury-hit seasons for a Rapids club looking for a new identity after their 2010 championship season.
But this past offseason brought a move that could spur the Jamaican international's career. The Houston Dynamo were looking for a replacement for Calen Carr, who suffered a severe knee injury at MLS Cup, and found a willing partner in the Rapids. The target: Cummings, a player Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear had long liked.
The trade was made: Cummings for defender Nathan Sturgis and allocation money.
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Now the forward is looking to finally make the most of his new start – not in the EPL as he first thought, but with an established club in Houston.
“It’s starting over,” Cummings told MLSsoccer.com about coming to Houston. “I don’t expect to come in and be given a spot. Wherever you are, you have to prove your worth.”
According to Dynamo teammate Giles Barnes, who arrived in Houston last season, Cummings landed in the right place.
“I don’t think you can find a much better group to [start over] with,” said Barnes. “Everyone works hard for each other, everyone’s looking out for each other and everyone wants everyone else to succeed as well. That’s rare to find in a group, from my experience anyway.”
Cummings has fit right into that collective. The easy-going striker is a good fit in a Dynamo group that thrives with players who know what is expected of them and can carry the professional standard the club has become known for over its eight-year history.
On the field, it's been a different story. Coming off two seasons with injuries, Cummings underwent surgery on his right knee in January, ruling him out of the start of the regular season and CONCACAF Champions League play.
“It’s different,” Cummings said. “You’re not playing and then not being with the team in preseason, you miss a lot of the fundamentals like how they play and how the coach wants things.”
Three weeks ago, action started to pick up. Cummings returned to the field and has gradually progressed in his involvement, making his way into the team and looking like the player Houston envisioned.
The pace, the runs, the finishing ability and all the other things that made Cummings a feared striker in MLS are showing up. All are traits the Dynamo will look to use once he is 100 percent, and abilities that could make for a strong partnership with fellow forward Will Bruin.
“You look at Omar, he’s very strong,” Barnes said. “Credit to him the way he’s kept himself in shape. He’s missed all of preseason and if you look at him he’s almost fit.”
Still, Cummings is in the “baby steps” stage. He made his Dynamo debut Saturday with a brief appearance in the 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps, coming on in the 89th minute. It was an uneventful appearance, but one that signals that Cummings’ new start is finally here.
“Good forwards stay consistent and get out of their slumps,” teammate Brian Ching said about Cummings in preseason. “He’s proven himself over the years. If he can stay injury-free and get back to the form he was in, I think we’re going to be extremely dangerous this year.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.