Owen Coyle thought he knew what he was getting into when he signed on as head coach of the Houston Dynamo ahead of the 2015 season.
The Scottish-born manager brought an impressive bio to Texas, featuring 30 years of playing and managing experience in England and Scotland. He had the resume to coach the Dynamo, but Coyle, by his own admission, didn’t quite count on a couple of roadblocks that have been the bane of many MLS managers over the years: Travel and international duty.
The Dynamo too often fell flat when playing on the road last season, finishing the year with a 2-10-5 away mark, the second-worst road record in the league. They could compete with anyone in MLS when they had their full squad, with eight of their 11 wins coming against playoff teams, but they lacked the depth to be effective when players like Giles Barnes and DaMarcus Beasley were on international duty.
The end result was an eighth-place finish in the Western Conference, and a second-straight year with no playoffs in Houston.
“MLS is an elite league now, but I don’t think any of the other elite leagues, the [English Premier League], the Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A, the traveling there is minimal, and I mean minimal,” Coyle told MLSsoccer.com over the phone from Houston’s camp in Tucson, AZ last week. “The traveling involved, it takes a level of understanding and I think that’s been a huge learning curve, certainly.”
“And it’s unlike the leagues I’ve been involved in because when there is an international game on, whether it was Scotland or England, the league doesn’t play,” he added. “I had 16 internationals with Bolton Wanderers, but not one of them ever missed a game for their club team, so that was a learning curve as well, that was a big takeaway that I had to get my head around.”
Now well into his second preseason with Houston, Coyle feels far better prepared to manage the Dynamo’s travel and any international absences in 2016. He’ll tweak training schedules to better deal with Houston’s road games, and thinks he and second-year GM Matt Jordan have added the depth to be able to deal with potential extended absences for Barnes, Beasley, Erick "Cubo" Torres and other internationals.
The Dynamo are one of just four teams in the league who currently have all 28 senior roster spots filled, and they feel like they have talent at every position. They have a bevy of options at forward and midfield, in particular, with 2015 holdovers Barnes, Torres, Will Bruin, Ricardo Clark, Boniek Garcia, Leonel Miranda and Mauro Manotas joined by offseason acquisitions Cristian Maidana and Andrew Wenger.
The added numbers should increase the competition for playing time in Houston, and give Coyle, who primarily used a one-forward formation last year, plenty of options in terms of how he wants to line up.
More than anything, the 49-year-old manager is hoping the influx of talent leads to more consistency as he looks to lead the Dynamo back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“What we’ve got to understand I think this year is to look for improvement and look for a little bit more consistency,” he said. “If we do that, and if we pick up a few more points on the road, then we’ll be in those playoffs competing to win the cup like everybody else wants to be.”