The Dynamo pressed high and tried hard.

A gif is worth a thousand words:

This team got something of a facelift this past winter, one that focused primarily on bringing in MLS veterans who would avoid the type of terminal midseason decline that has been such a feature of Dynamo soccer over the past decade.

And yet.

Formation and tactics

Among those new arrivals were Fafa Picault, who’s one of the best pressing wingers in the league, and Maxi Urruti, who's one of the best pressing forwards in the league. The other big arrival was center back Tim Parker, whose best years came with the press-press-press Red Bull teams of Jesse Marsch and Chris Armas.

You see where this is going, right? Tab Ramos wanted the Dynamo to be a very direct, pressing team that forced turnovers and got vertical immediately. The style was supposed to be less RBNY-type demolition derby and more of the pitch control pressing of Sporting KC, and like Sporting it would come out of a 4-3-3.

Unlike Sporting, it didn’t work. They didn’t force enough turnovers in midfield to have turnovers become the creative engine, and they didn’t have enough creativity out there in terms of individual talent until Ramos eventually caved to the inevitable and put Darwin Quintero into the XI in late summer.

That move came with a switch to a more standard 4-2-3-1, and then to a 3-4-1-2 with Darwin as a true No. 10. It was enough to stop the bleeding, but not enough to get Houston to the playoffs – which they’ll miss for the seventh time in eight seasons.

Highlights

The Dynamo came out of the gates running relatively hot, going 3-2-2 in their first seven and smartly capitalizing on the early season slop. Every year some team punches above their weight by being dialed in and focusing on turnovers of the sort that happen over the first six or eight games, but are usually gone by late May.

This year – many years, actually – that team was the Dynamo.

So that’s a highlight, but I think the bigger one is winning two Texas rivalry games in a row in mid-September, beating Austin 3-0 on the 11th and then FC Dallas by 3-2 a week later. Force me to choose between the two, and I’ll go with the Austin win for three reasons:

  1. It ended a single-season MLS record 16-game winless streak
  2. It’s Houston’s only multi-goal win of the season to this point
  3. They set the tone by actually scoring a goal inside of a minute

The Dynamo didn’t take a lot of leads this year. There’s one that they took and kept, and my goodness did they need it.

Lowlight

You caught that “single-season MLS record 16-game winless streak” point above, right?

They went almost four months without a dub, a run that eventually cost general manager Matt Jordan his job. Given the club’s track record with him at the helm, it’s hard to argue that the decision wasn’t merited.

I don’t think there was any one particular lowest point in it. The whole thing was just … numbing.

Revelation

Nobody, though perhaps if winger Tyler Pasher, who was signed after a few outstanding years in the USL, or midseason import Adalberto Carrasquilla, a Panamanian central midfielder, had stayed healthy, one of them would go in this spot.

Pasher has been consistently electric and was a huge part of their good early-season form, even earning his way into John Herdman’s Gold Cup plans with Canada. But he’s only managed about 750 MLS minutes thus far.

Carrasquilla, meanwhile, managed only about 330 before picking up an injury while on international duty, and only just returned to the lineup.

Disappointment

Ramos came to the Dynamo after seven years of guiding the US U-20s and the hope, in certain segments of the fanbase, was that he’d coax improved play out of the few young players on the roster and build the kind of long-term foundation this team hasn’t developed since the Dom Kinnear days.

It has not happened in any way. Young Argentine attacker Mateo Bajamich, who was a seven-figure signing in 2020, has played all of 134 minutes. First-round SuperDraft pick Ethan Bartlow, who earned a Generation adidas contract and was widely considered the best center back in the draft, has not played a single minute. Young homegrowns Erik McCue and Marcelo Palomino were sent to the USL on loan, while slightly older homegrown Memo Rodriguez has seen his role reduced.

All told the Dynamo have ended up fielding, on average, one of the oldest rosters in MLS this year.

2022 Preview

Five Players to Build Upon:

  • Picault (W): Fafa’s been one of the few bright spots, recording 11g/5a so far for the most productive season of his career. At age 30 he looks like he’s got plenty left in the tank, and the Dynamo should keep him around.
  • Pasher (W): Again: The 27-year-old was damn near a revelation, and like Fafa he’s an ultra-committed defensive winger with speed to burn.
  • Carrasquilla (CM): Carrasquilla is more of a pass-before-the-pass guy than a pure playmaker, but regardless he looked like a pretty good young player in his limited minutes.
  • Parker (CB): He hasn’t covered himself in glory this year but the circumstances have been difficult. Parker’s an in-his-prime CB who we’ve all seen hit a high level in this league in the past. You don’t just give those guys away.
  • Teenage Hadebe (CB): The Dynamo actually went out mid-season and got a DP center back, which is not something you see every day. Hadebe's in his prime, and while he hasn’t exactly been DP caliber out there, he’s nonetheless been an upgrade over 38-year-old Maynor Figueroa.

Offseason Priority:

I assume they’re going to jettison a good chunk of their roster and aim for something of a rebuild. With new and presumably more financially aggressive ownership in town, I’m going to presume that rebuild will include some high-end DPs.

The most obvious spots to target are the No. 9 since Urruti will never stop being Urruti (6g in his first 11 games; one in his subsequent 17) and the No. 10 since Quintero almost certainly will not be back (and is too old and limited to be a starter for a good team, anyway).

That’d require moving Carrasquilla to the No. 8 full-time, and I’m not sure has the defensive chops for it but, like, make him! Teach him! And that goes to the larger overall priority, which has to be instilling a culture that breeds internal improvement.

Just look at how many guys get better under Bruce Arena in New England, or Brian Schmetzer in Seattle or Jim Curtin in Philadelphia. That’s not magic; that’s coaching.