ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s a title that some clubs would rather not be tagged with: hottest team of the preseason.
This year that honor has been held by the Houston Dynamo, who are now undefeated at 5-0-2 in the 2011 preseason after the latest 3-2 win on Thursday night at the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic.
“We’re feeling pretty good,” midfielder Geoff Cameron told MLSsoccer.com. “We have some confidence building and the team is playing all around pretty well.”
Cameron is the symbol of a seemingly rejuvenated Dynamo squad. After missing a long stretch of a forgettable 2010 campaign with a knee ligament injury, Cameron put in extra fitness work during the offseason with the Dynamo coaching staff in an attempt to become increasingly effective from his attacking center midfield role this year.
Along with the return of a fully fit Cameron, the Dynamo are also buoyed by the addition of younger players, including first round SuperDraft picks Kofi Sarkodie and Will Bruin. The newcomers have injected the side with the energy and hard-working attitude that were trademarks of past Houston sides.
[inline_node:329444]“The young guys are playing very well for us right now,” head coach Dominic Kinnear said. “We’re encouraging Kofi to get forward [from right back position]. On the goal that Brad [Davis] scored, the foul came from [Sarkodie] making a good run forward. He’s fitting in fine. And Will Bruin also put in a good shift for us tonight.”
For all the positives this preseason, including watching his team convert on several set piece goals, Kinnear also has one important area that he wants his team to improve upon: the opening minutes of matches. The Dynamo conceded a goal to Toronto FC just seven minutes in on Thursday night.
“I think starting games better would be good, and to get a [scoring] chance in the first five minutes to get us going and feeling confident would be nice,” Kinnear said. “But that’s pretty much it. The fitness has been good. The attitude has been excellent. We’re getting goals scored from quite a few guys, which is nice to see. And to defend better as a group would be great.”
As with any team, Kinnear’s first priority is to get the Dynamo out of the preseason unscathed by injury. The right hamstring tweak that forward Brian Ching experienced in the first half against Toronto FC is believed to be minor and the head coach said his early substitution was purely precautionary.
Houston’s fitness will surely be put to the test in what is expected to be another hard battle against their Texas rivals, FC Dallas, in the Disney Cup final on Saturday night (8 pm ET, ESPN3.com). Their matchup on Feb. 12 in Corpus Christi, Texas, degenerated into a chippy contest which Houston won 4-0.
“I’d be surprised if it was 4-0 again,” Kinnear said. “Watching them play [on Thursday], they played very well. No matter if it’s preseason or league games, they’re always pretty intense with Dallas and I would expect another one on Saturday.”
Check out the Feb. 24 edition of the ExtraTime Radio podcast, featuring D.C. United's Charlie Davies, Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando and league executive Nelson Rodriguez talking about the new playoff structure.