As the 2022 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 (Houston Dynamo version). Read that, too.
He has gifs. It’s tough to beat gifs.
With new ownership entering its first full year, a new front office, a new coaching staff and a couple of new stars, hope sprung eternal this winter for the Houston Dynamo. But an encouraging start gave way to a prolonged run of bad form, leading the club to part ways with head coach Paulo Nagamura just 29 MLS games after he was hired.
Houston end year one of the new era hoping to find more answers ahead of year two. It starts with the second coaching search in as many years.
One quote from general manager Pat Onstad’s press conference following the dismissal of Nagamura struck me:
“One thing I’ve learned in this seat is the years of being unsuccessful here have been more difficult to overcome than I expected," Onstad told media.
The Dynamo are long removed from their apex as a perennial contender in MLS, most of which happened with Onstad playing goalkeeper for the team. Now back as GM, year one didn’t go according to plan.
Trying not to lay victim to the sunk cost fallacy, Houston made a change at head coach quickly. Now, Onstad and Co. are in another coaching search.
Onstad made it clear winning MLS experience is something that will be valued, but he didn’t rule out candidates from abroad. Last time around, they interviewed the likes of Luchi Gonzalez (hired by San Jose), Pablo Mastroeni (retained by Real Salt Lake) and others.
Last offseason, Houston reached deals to sign Sebastian Ferreira and Hector Herrera as Designated Players. They signed goalkeeper Steve Clark in MLS free agency and added Brazilian fullback Zeca, who was out of contract. During the year they triggered the purchase option for center-mid Coco Carrasquilla. Those were their high-leverage additions during the 2022 season.
Now what? How many contracts are expiring/can they get out of to give the technical staff more room to maneuver?
Both the attack (sixth-worst 36 goals scored / eighth-worst 37.1 xG) and defense (fourth-worst 49.7 xGA) could use refreshing.
Darwin Quintero, Corey Baird, Fafa Picault, Adam Lundqvist, Daniel Steres, Zarek Valentin, Darwin Ceren and Memo Rodriguez only have guaranteed deals through 2022. Ceren and Steres are out of contract, the rest have club options. There are others, too, which can open up a significant amount of roster/salary cap flexibility, depending on who stays/who goes.
Teenage Hadebe can also be bought down off the third DP spot, but the likelihood is that Carrasquilla will be classified as a DP to ensure allocation money is saved/replenished. This would also allow the club to add two more U22 Initiative players behind winger Thiago.
Reminder: U22 Initiative players hit the cap at a low, fixed cost in which the transfer fee isn't factored into the budget charge.
In real English: That just means they can still spend some money even without a senior DP spot.
During the beginning of the year, the goal was for Houston to stay firmly in the playoff race until Hector Herrera arrived to debut at the beginning of July. It wasn’t an easy task given the club’s recent history and being without the Mexico international for the first half of the season, but by the time he arrived, they were still in the picture.
Since Herrera’s debut, the club have gone 2W-7L-3D (0.82 PPG) and fell to the bottom of the Western Conference table. Herrera hasn’t played in all the games, for what it’s worth, and this isn’t to suggest he was the catalyst or chief reason behind the cratering. Still, the club are working to figure out the best way to use their DP No. 8.
A midfield trio of Matias Vera holding underneath Herrera and Carrasquilla makes sense on a digital depth chart, but there isn’t a ton of chance creation in that trio, which could work with more dynamic output from wingers, which Houston didn’t have.
Quintero created chances at an elite rate (per 90 minutes) but, at this stage of his career, is suited more to a super-sub role as he doesn’t do much against the ball. Outside of Quintero, Houston had nobody near the top 10 in MLS in expected assists per 90. And there is no guarantee he'll be back, anyway, so perhaps there'll be a different balance.
A couple more thoughts
- Obviously the formation is subject to change depending on the next head coach's tactics.
- Is highly-rated youngster Brooklyn Raines ready for regular first-team minutes? Who else from the academy/Dynamo 2 will be ready for a role? That helps a ton with salary cap gymnastics.
- Sebastian Ferreira (10g/3a in just over 2,000 minutes) has had a decent debut season. What will year two look like?