As the 2021 MLS season draws to a close, clubs trickle over the line of being mathematically eliminated from the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Though games remain, focus shifts to the offseason and what's next.
Here, we'll be covering three questions for every team moving forward. Think of it as an exit interview, if you will. Matt Doyle, as always, has you covered on his preeminent season-in-review for each club. Read that, too.
He has gifs. It’s tough to beat gifs.
Another season of disappointment in H-town, with Houston Dynamo FC having long fallen out of the playoff race thanks to a hellish run of 16 games without a win from May until September (!).
On a micro view, it's not great. The macro, forward-looking view offers some optimism, though, with plenty of change and big promises levied.
Ted Segal took over as majority owner this summer, promising to increase the budget after the Dynamo had been one of the lowest-spending teams in MLS over the last few years. There's also an opening in the front office and a renewed energy around the club.
This offseason has the potential to be transformational. Or, it could be more of the same. It's a big winter ahead.
Editor's note: Houston named Pat Onstad as their next general manager on Nov. 1.
The Dynamo parted with GM Matt Jordan at the end of August, Segal's first big change after taking over control of the club two months prior.
In his introductory interviews, Segal spoke of not meddling over his chief soccer officer and deferring to the experts. This search to hire a CSO will be critical to their short- and mid-term success. It seems he's leaning towards someone with MLS experience, something most clubs have done lately after a largely unsuccessful foray of looking to Europe in the past few years.
“I think that it is helpful if an individual has familiarity with navigating the specific nuances and intricacies of Major League Soccer, which is distinct in a lot of ways both in terms of its rules and its play from other leagues," Segal said last month.
There are plenty of domestic-based candidates on the market and they're getting closer.
Sources told MLSsoccer.com that LA Galaxy GM Dennis te Kloese and Columbus Crew No. 2 Pat Onstad are currently the frontrunners, while they also looked into Seattle Sounders' VP of soccer operations Craig Waibel.
This is a bit of a leading question since the answer quite obviously appears to be a resounding "yes."
There's a new owner. There will soon be a new GM. It remains to be seen if head coach Tab Ramos continues or Houston pursue another route. There's a roster in flux that has made the playoffs once since 2014 and with a current clear void of top-end talent following the transfers of Mauro Manotas (to Xolos) and Alberth Elis (to Boavista, now at Bordeaux).
If Segal expands the budget, as he's at least alluded to but hasn't put specifics on when asked, then the squad will be ripe for major additions in the winter.
“I think we all recognize that our current spend is at or near the bottom of the league,” Segal said in September. “That's just not where it should be for a city as large as we have in Houston and our aspirations for what this club can be. And so without getting into specifics, it will be materially higher and soon that will be a metric that will be open and obvious to everybody to judge us by.”
Darwin Quintero is in the final year of his guaranteed contract (Houston have a club option for 2022), while Teenage Hadebe can be bought down from his Designated Player charge with Targeted Allocation Money. While Quintero has impressed lately after being left out of the starting lineup for much of the season, Houston could theoretically bring in three new DPs if they so choose. They don't currently have anyone on the active roster listed as a U22 Initiative player. High-earner Maxi Urruti has a club option for 2022, while fellow high-earner Christian Ramirez was transferred to Scotland's Aberdeen FC this summer.
There will be plenty of high-end flexibility for whoever inherits the gig and there are some quality pieces already on the roster to build with.
Hadebe and Tim Parker have formed a strong partnership in central defense, while Panama international midfielder Adalberto Carrasquilla was acquired over the summer as well. Fafa Picault has 11g/5a so far this season, while Corey Baird is a former MLS Rookie of the Year and was once on the fringes of the US men's national team player pool.
Editor's note: Tab Ramos and Houston parted ways on Nov. 4.
When a new decision-maker comes in, it's normal for them to want to appoint their own manager. That's natural and happens often.
Tab Ramos is wrapping up his second season as head coach of the Dynamo. The longtime and well-respected US Under-20 national team coach hasn't had an easy transition (results-wise) to club soccer. They finished bottom of the West during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and are third-from-bottom currently in 2021.
That doesn't make a coaching change a 100% certainty. In recent memory, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin was retained by sporting director Ernst Tanner when he arrived at the club, though Curtin had a longer track record in the club's academy and had achieved more than Ramos at this stage.