HOUSTON—It’s been two barren seasons for the Houston Dynamo. A team that was inked into the playoffs for so long suffered through another season without soccer in November.
After shifting gears from the steady – and often successful – nine-year regime of Dominic Kinnear, the Dynamo never got their footing in 2015 under new boss Owen Coyle and general manager Matt Jordan.
With a critical offseason ahead, MLSsoccer.com caught up with Dynamo President Chris Canetti to talk about the offseason, what the message is and whether 2016 is a make-or-break season for a club seeking to stay relevant.
MLSsoccer.com: What is the message to the organization regarding the direction of the club going forward after a disappointing season?
Chris Canetti: I think everybody’s disappointed with the results of 2015. Everybody has a strong understanding of why the results didn’t go the way we wanted them to go, and we have a plan to go forward. We’re all completely on the same page. Every single one of us is highly motivated to win. The expectation is we’re going to take things to the next level based on what we’ve built.
MLS: What is the message from ownership at this point?
Canetti: Ownership’s been fantastic. They’ve been very supportive of what we’re trying to build. Very understanding. They understand there was a huge transition that took place and we’ve been very clear on what we’re trying to implement. They’ve been in our corner and understanding but the expectation they have is the expectation we have, which is that this is going to be an important offseason and a time to take it to the next level.
MLS: With where this team’s at, there are some players that have been here quite a long time that you have to make decisions on. What is that process like right now?
Canetti: A lot of time has been spent over the last few months taking a hard look at how we want to build this thing going forward. That means establishing an identity as a team and establishing how we want to play. For the most part, we have identified what we want to do in those areas. We have an idea of what the profiles are for those players by position that are on the roster and see if they fit into that identity and style of play, or not. So make decisions on the current folks about whether they can go forward with us with how we want to do this. That’s the trick right now. There’s a very clear understanding of what we want to do.
MLS: With two years out of the playoffs, what’s the pressure like or what pressure are you feeling?
Canetti: You’re always feeling pressure to win and be successful. I don’t think that’s changed. I look at it differently. I look at it as last year was the end of a regime where things just kind of ran out of steam and we needed to go a different direction. We needed to make changes and that took us to a new regime that we need to get up and going. I hope people can see what that means … but nobody’s sitting here saying this is a 3-to-5 year rebuild.
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I was asked if I regret saying this is not a rebuild and I said, ‘No, I don’t regret saying that.’ First of all, I would expect fans to expect the team president to set the standard that winning’s important. I believed at the time, with the base of players we had, that winning would be possible with changes to the roster. I look back and it was probably more challenging than I realized. For the people who told me I was crazy, I say wait a minute, we were right there. But I do accept it was a lot of change. Dominic [Kinnear] was unbelievable for this organization and he’ll go down as one of the most important figures in the history of the organization. But everything we had here on the technical side was Dom. What we’re trying to build is a club infrastructure and club philosophy that has more parts around it. From some senses we were starting at zero. I can definitely sleep at night knowing a lot of stuff we implemented this year will have positive results in the future.
MLS: Is 2016 playoffs or bust?
Canetti: I don’t want to put that pressure on anybody, but I think we all feel that pressure and I think that’s a good healthy thing. It would be inappropriate to say [missing the playoffs] is OK but I’m not going to sit here and guarantee anything. There are no guarantees in this league … but I know we all have confidence in ourselves and we’re all going to work our butts off. We’re thinking we need to be a team that doesn’t just sneak into the playoffs but a team that’s regarded highly and going to be, year-in and year-out, safely in the playoffs. Teams in every sport go through down cycles. I’m not saying it’s acceptable, but we have to be realistic that from time to time it’s going to happen and hope this was our period of it and we’re doing the right things to get us to where we need to be.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.