The 26-year-old forward didn’t qualify for MLS free agency, but he did have interest from Europe, where things were brewing in the Belgian top flight and in several second divisions around the continent.
While he was intrigued by the attention, Bruin declined to pursue the foreign interest. He got married on December 12, and wanted to have a new deal in place before saying his vows. Houston, who selected Bruin No. 11 overall in the 2011 SuperDraft, offered that. Europe, where the transfer window didn’t open until January, couldn’t. So when the Dynamo came through with a solid contract offer, Bruin’s decision was easy – the St. Louis native stayed in Texas, signing a new deal that was announced on December 1.
“I wanted to hash something out before the wedding, before the European window opened,” he told MLSsoccer.com over the phone on Friday from the Dynamo’s preseason camp in Tucson, Arizona. “The Dynamo were happy to talk and we met at a good contract that was good for both sides, and I’m real happy with how it worked out.”
Armed with a new deal, Bruin is feeling comfortable in Houston. That wasn’t quite the case at the start of last year, when the impending summertime arrival of $7 million forward signing Erick "Cubo" Torres threatened to cut into Bruin’s minutes, which were already in flux as he bounced in and out of the lineup during the first two months of the season under new head coach Owen Coyle.
He struggled to adjust to Coyle’s one-forward formation at the start of the year, but Bruin eventually settled in, scoring his first goal on April 25 and starting all but one game for the rest of the year. He adapted to playing as a lone striker, with his total of 11 goals taking him to 47 combined regular season and playoff tallies for his carries, fourth-most in MLS since 2011.
The new contract has led to a larger role in the locker room, with Bruin – who, following Brad Davis’ offseason departure to Kansas City, is now the second-longest tenured member of the Dynamo behind goalkeeper Tyler Deric – taking on more of a leadership role in 2016.
“It’s definitely more of a leadership role,” he said. “I’ve been more of a guy that leads by example, but I think I’m going to have to be a guy that’s more vocal this year because we’ve got a younger team.”
Said Coyle: “Will Bruin gives you everything he’s got, he wears his heart on his sleeve and he has leadership qualities. It’s not anybody’s leaving and he steps up, Will was always a guy that was important to the group. But, I’ve got to say, it has been solidified this year.”
The Dynamo are not only younger, but also deeper, too. Coyle and GM Matt Jordan added some significant pieces this offseason ahead of their second year in Houston, trading Philadelphia for Andrew Wenger and Cristian Maidana, bringing Leonel Miranda back from a loan stint in Argentina and acquiring Spanish defenders Agus and David Rocha.
Torres and another high-profile midseason arrival from last year, forward Mauro Manotas, will also have the benefit of a full preseason with Houston in 2016. That’ll enhance the competition up top for Bruin, who’s optimistic that the increased depth and new acquisitions will help the Dynamo as they look to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“Nobody’s spot is 100-percent secure, there’s always a guy at your heels” he said. “That keeps you on your toes when you come to the games, because you know that there’s somebody waiting to be in the starting XI that wants that opportunity. That’s what everybody craves, getting their opportunity. When you have it you can’t just sit on it, you’ve got to earn it every game, and I think that’s a great mentality and philosophy that we’re going to have going forward this year.”