MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

New Houston GM Pat Onstad seeks "top-end talent" as Dynamo plan increased spending

Onstad Dynamo presser

It's a homecoming for Pat Onstad.

A former Houston Dynamo FC goalkeeper and two-time MLS Cup winner, Onstad has been named GM of the club he helped lead to glory as a player. Now, he's tasked with leading the rebuild into a new era under new ownership.

“We were excited when the opportunity came up," Onstad told "For me, this is a club I’ve always had my eyes on since I left. In terms of me coming back, I couldn’t be more excited.”

Onstad spent the last three years as technical director and vice president of soccer operations for the Columbus Crew, helping build a roster that won MLS Cup in 2020.

A job he called "good and safe" under highly-respected club president Tim Bezbatchenko, Onstad learned and grew in his role in Columbus. He and Bezbatchenko both often discussed the next step would be for him to become a GM elsewhere and, when Houston came calling this fall, Onstad had Columbus' backing and support. After excelling in interviews and presenting the club with a comprehensive plan, the Dynamo officially appointed Onstad GM on Monday.

There are other ways that Columbus could prove to be the perfect experience for Onstad's new job. As in Houston, Columbus underwent an ownership change when he was given his new role. And, as proved to be the case with the Crew, there is an expectation in Houston that new ownership will also come with a bump in spending.

“There will be a materially higher spend. Pat and I have talked about that objective," majority owner Ted Segal said. "I think when you see the salaries released at this time next season, it will be significantly different than today. It will be fitting for a city of this size and the support Houston gives.”

Added Onstad: “This is a gentleman who believes in the city and is willing to support the club. I’m excited to have an opportunity from a budget standpoint to build this club and make it successful. I wouldn’t have taken this opportunity if I felt I didn’t have the support of ownership.”

It sure seems like it'll be a busy offseason in Houston.

Priority No. 1? "We're missing top-end talent"

The Dynamo have made the playoffs just once since 2014 and have finished far below the playoff line in each of the last three seasons. Predictably, the new GM is looking to improve the roster he inherits.

“Number one is to get better on the field," Onstad said. "We have some core guys who are very good, but we’re missing some top-end talent and difference-makers. Those pieces who can turn games. In our league, it’s pretty close. It’s those players who make differences.”

Top-end talent has been amiss all year.

Houston previously had a core of DP attackers in Mauro Manotas and Alberth Elis, but both players were transferred on in 2020 and the club has struggled to adequately replace either.

On the plus side, that also means there will be plenty of roster space for the new GM to maneuver.

Darwin Quintero and center back Teenage Hadebe were classified as DPs, though both can be bought down. Houston have the ability to open up three DP and two U22 Initiative spots this winter if they so choose.

“There is definitely room for improvement," Onstad said. "We’re not DP-tied, we have room for manipulation. The [U22 Initiative], too. I’m pretty comfortable with it.”

Onstad noted there is a decent core of players in place, like Hadebe, Tim Parker, Fafa Picault, Matias Vera, Corey Baird and others. He has a plan and a playing style he wants to deliver and aims to ensure the roster reflects that.

"I have players and a style I want to see, but we have to make sure we go after the correct players," Onstad said. "Ones that fit within a system. Something we did well in Columbus was identifying players that fit in the system that Caleb Porter was playing. So first and foremost is players, we need to get better on the field. But I’ll spend the next weeks and months trying to evaluate everybody and get better.”

On the recruitment front, the Dynamo will soon expand their scouting department. That's another thing Onstad raised in his interviews.

"We have a smaller scouting staff here, that’s another priority is to build that out," Onstad said. "When I went through my presentation, this is what we needed. It helps eliminate risk. If you have a robust scouting department, you’ll make less mistakes. When you look at what Columbus have done since expanding the scouting department, we had a lot more hits than misses.”

Another big decision immediately in front of the club's new decision-maker is in regards to the head coach. Tab Ramos is wrapping up his second season in charge, with a record of 10W-25L-21D with two games remaining this year, and does not have a guaranteed contract for 2022.

“I have not had a chance to speak with him at length, we’ve had some quicker conversations," Onstad said. "He’s prepping the team for Wednesday. Once that’s done, we’ll sit down and decide on what we’re going to do.”