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Season Review: Despite best start in club history, Houston Dynamo miss playoffs again

The Houston Dynamo roster ended with unexpected departures from the one that started the season.

It is incredible to think that, just ten months ago, flocks of Dynamo jerseys roamed to Latin America with the enthusiasm and invigoration that accompanied the start of a new season. By the start of October, the season finale arrived as a merciful end to the fatigue and frustration of what is, now, the worst season in club history.

The club has failed to make the MLS Cup Playoffs in five of the last six seasons. Over half of the teams qualified for the playoffs in each of those years, despite the expansion of Major League Soccer over that span.

The Dynamo now prepare for the start of the offseason next month. In the meantime, let's recall how they got here.

Not enough offseason fuel

Because of the way the Dynamo are built, the root of the team's success depends on the additions, or lack thereof, during the offseason. General Manager Matt Jordan and his staff replaced 12 outgoing players with eight incoming signings, of which only four were significant contributors.

Defensive additions Matias Vera, arguably the team's season MVP, and Aljaz Struna were home runs with both coming first and second in minutes played. Defender Maynor Figueroa and midfielder Thomas McNamara also made the top ten in that category.

The problem for the club comes from there being only two major offseason signings. With a lack of first team contributors coming through the Academy and the college draft, the transfer windows are the major source of improvement for the roster. The Dynamo needed to be more aggressive with incoming talent and, several months later, it's proven true.

The Manotas, Elis conundrum

To sell or not to sell. For one of the league's lowest spending teams, an influx of cash from the sale of one of their young prospects could have helped to improve the team.

The Dynamo had offers for 23-year-old Alberth Elis and 24-year-old Mauro Manotas but did not part ways with either. Elis, who has made it public on numerous occasion that his dream is to play in Europe, lobbied his case on Honduran television in an effort to force the club to sell him. Manotas was given a raise to become the team's highest earner at the beginning of the year but was almost sold in the summer, kept in Houston by an inability to sell him by the transfer deadline.

Manotas scored 13 goals (team leader) and provided 8 assists (team 2nd) while Elis scored nine (team 2nd) and was credited with 10 assists (team leader). They could be a huge part of the blueprint for the future of the club but the question remains if their role will be as contributors on the field or off it as the sacrificial lambs, and the Dynamo don't seem to have a firm posture on either stance.

Favorable home schedule early, lack of road results

The team began the year with a five-game unbeaten streak and won seven of their first eight. Supporters were right to feel good about their team's success but perhaps the results painted a much favorable picture.

By June 2nd, the team had played half of it's home schedule. The rest of the season was heavy on road games, a particular challenge for the club in recent years, and the team would only win six and draw one of the remaining 21 matches - a total of 19 points and barely half of their season total.

Even with the downward spiral, which was a carbon copy of the 2018 season but without the makeup of a U.S. Open Cup title, the Dynamo missed the playoffs by a difference of eight points. The road has been a key to their absence from the playoffs.

Dating back to the 2014 season, the Dynamo have won only 12 away matches from 102 played. Their recent playoff season (2017) was made possible by offsetting a one-win road record with a near perfect 12-1-4 (W-L-T) home record.

By the way, the Dynamo won the 2018 Open Cup title by playing every match at home.

Uncertainty at head coach

Wilmer Cabrera guided the Dynamo back to the playoffs in 2017, taking the team as far as the Western Conference finals. His shortcomings - among them, inconsistency with team lineups, a lack of improving players despite tabbed a "teacher of the game" and self-victimization when phased with poor results - were covered up by his good early results, a blanket of protection that faded in the next two seasons.

The Dynamo were handicapped by his premature extension in early 2018 but ultimately made the decision to let him go in August. Assistant Davy Arnaud was named the Interim but failed to salvage the situation with nine matches remaining in the season. Even so, his ability to reinvigorate the team may be enough to convince the club of removing the interim tag.

The reality is the Dynamo are back to where they were in 2016 - reflecting on their current situation as they prepare to hire the club's next head coach. The last two hires did not turn out as well as the club would've liked and the gap between them and the rest of the league only continues to increase.

The departure of DaMarcus Beasley

The best memory of the 2019 season for many will be the retirement of U.S. National Team Legend DaMarcus Beasley. The country's only participant in four FIFA World Cup tournaments earned a cup title but was hardly ever in reach of winning an MLS Cup in the Bayou City.

Despite his club form, his stature in the game is one that will be hard to match any other American player. Beasley played at historic clubs like PSV Eindhoven and Rangers F.C. and was part of the U.S. Men's best outing in the modern World Cup setup.

His farewell match was a bright spot in an otherwise low season and his goals at Guastatoya in the Concacaf Champions League and against Club American in the inaugural League's Cup stand among the best moments of the year.

The arrival of Christian Ramirez

In the long run, the acquisition of Christian Ramirez may be one of the more significant transfers in recent league history. The U.S. born striker has all the makings of a big time goalscorer and has made the best of playing time with the team.

"Superman" has picked up 5 goals and 1 assist in his 10 matches with the Houston Dynamo. As with any other promising player, he will flourish if accompanied by the proper team around him.

James Harden joins ownership team

In the bigger picture, Harden's involvement may just be as simple as a financial investment for the future. With a five percent ownership stake, it's hard to see the Houston Rockets star having any significant input in the comings and goings of the club.

Still, it's a significant event for many Dynamo fans as they got to see one of Houston's icons sporting an orange jersey.

Houston Dynamo

The Houston Dynamo take the field for their 15th professional soccer season and ninth at BBVA Stadium when they take on the LA Galaxy in their opening match on February 29. Major League Soccer is also celebrating its 25th season as the league expands to 26 total teams with the addition of Nashville SC and David Beckham's Inter Miami CF.

Head Coach - Tabaré "Tab" Ramos

Tab Ramos, the first player ever signed to Major League Soccer, returns to the league in its 25th season after spending a decade as coach of the U20 U.S. National Team. Photo: Bryan Salas / Houston Dynamo

Perhaps the biggest offseason signing for the Dynamo happened off the field as Tab Ramos was announced as the club's fourth Head Coach in November. The Uruguayan was a midfielder in his playing days and represented the United States in three FIFA World Cup tournaments. He was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2005.

Ramos will debut as a manager of a professional club after working as a U.S. Men's National Team assistant to Jürgen Klinsmann from 2014–2016 and heading the U20 U.S. Men's National Team from 2011–2019.

Tab Ramos' coaching staff is reinforced by his longtime assistant Omid Namazi and Pablo Mastroeni, a former MLS Head Coach with the Colorado Rapids.

Houston Dynamo 2020 Technical Staff

Head Coach - Tab Ramos
Assistant - Omid Namazi
Assistant - Pablo Mastroeni
Goalkeepers - Paul Rogers
Head of Performance - Paul Caffrey
Head Athletic Trainer - Chris Rumsey
Assistant Athletic Trainer - Casey Carlson
Director of Equipment Operations - Chris Maxwell
Assistant Equipment Manager - Ed Cerda

2020 roster

Colombian forward Mauro Manotas, 24, has 48 goals and 15 assists in MLS regular season play since joining the club in 2015. Photo: Bryan Salas / Houston Dynamo

Goalkeepers:

  • 1 - Marko Marić
  • 26 - Michael Nelson
  • 5 - Cody Cropper

Defenders:

  • 2 - Alejandro Fuenmayor
  • 3 - Adam Lundkvist
  • 4- Zarek Valentin
  • 5 - Aljaž "Kiki" Struna
  • 15 - Maynor Figueroa
  • 18 - Jose Bizama
  • 28 - Erik McCue
  • 29 - Sam Junqua
  • 32 - Kyle Adams
  • 36 - Victor Cabrera

Midfielders:

  • 8- Jose Guillermo "Memo" Rodriguez
  • 10 - Tomas Martinez
  • 11 - Thomas "Tommy" McNamara
  • 12 - Niko Hansen
  • 14 - Marcelo Palomino
  • 22 - Matías Vera
  • 24 - Darwin Cerén
  • 27 - Óscar Boniek García

Forwards:

  • 7 - Alberth Elis
  • 9 - Mauro Manotas
  • 13 - Christian Ramirez
  • 19 - Michael Salazar
  • 21 - Ronaldo Peña
  • 23 - Darwin Quintero

Offseason additions / subtractions

Goalkeeper Marko Marić, 24, will be the starter in his first season with the club. Photo: Houston Dynamo

The Dynamo made a bit of noise early by signing former Liga MX star scorer Darwin Quintero (pictured at the top of the article) as an intraleague transfer from Minnesota United. The team also hired a new starting goalkeeper in Croatian Marko Maric. It was otherwise a quite offseason for the club.

MLS SuperDraft selections FW Garrett McLaughlin and MF Luka Prpa were signed to second division affiliate Rio Grande Valley FC. On the homegrown front, the Dynamo finally came to terms with former Academy prodigy Marcelo Palomino who took a year away from the club to pursue other potential suitors.

Departures

  • DF DaMarcus Beasley - Retired
  • MF Marlon Hairston - Traded to Minnesota United FC
  • GK Joe Willis - Traded to Nashville SC
  • FW Romell Quioto - Traded to Montreal Impact
  • MF Eric Bird - Contract option declined
  • MF Juan David Cabezas - Contract option declined
  • GK Tyler Deric - Contract option declined
  • DF A.J. DeLaGarza - Contract expired
  • DF Kevin Garcia - Contract expired
Additions
  • FW Darwin Quintero - Trade with Minnesota United FC
  • DF Zarek Valentin - Trade with Nashville SC (acquired from Portland Timbers in Expansion Draft)
  • DF Victor Cabrera - Trade with Montreal Impact
  • MF Marcelo Palomino - Free Transfer, Homegrown player
  • GK Marko Marić - Purchased from TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
  • GK Cody Cropper - Free Transfer
  • DF Kyle Adams - Promoted from USL affiliate RGVFC

The Star - Alberth Elis

Honduran Forward Alberth Elis, 24, enters the final year of his contract and is expected to depart the club on a free if he is not resigned during the year. Photo: Wilf Thorne / Houston Dynamo

Alberth Elis has made his intentions clear - his ultimate goal is to play in the English Premier League. To get there, he needs to get to Europe sooner rather than later. With the Dynamo unwilling to part ways with the offers that have come in for him already, Elis' best opportunity to leave is after his contract expires. In the final year of his contract, Elis can sign a pre-contract as soon as this summer.

In the meantime, Elis can raise his stock with interested European clubs by dazzling on the field as he has since joining the club in 2017. Few players in MLS, if any, can match the Honduran's speed and the winger has been influential in the team's attacking corps during his time in orange.

Elis has lacked consistency and his form has dipped near the end of the season in previous years. That not withstanding, he is the most talented player on the roster and one of the top players in the league on his best day.

The Cleaner - Matias Vera

Argentine midfielder Matias Vera, 24, joined the team in 2019 and was voted the season's Most Valuable Player. Photo: Wilf Thorne / Houston Dynamo

Matias Vera is one of the best finds in recent years for the club. Acquired from Argentina's San Lorenzo for a reported transfer fee of around $1 million in 2019, Vera has been "the cleaner" in front of the defense.

He was rightly voted the MVP of the 2019 season after providing a dependable level of consistency from start to finish. At the moment, there is no player on the roster that provides what he does in defensive midfield, meaning the Dynamo are thin at that position if Vera gets injured.

The Captain - Boniek Garcia

Honduran midfieler Oscar Boniek Garcia, 35, is the most tenured Dynamo on the roster. Photo: Wilf Thorne / Houston Dynamo

Oscar Boniek Garcia has been with the club since 2012 and is an example of professionalism. Originally a winger when he arrived, Boniek has shifted inward into midfield as part of reinventing himself and extending his playing career.

It's no surprise to see him wearing the captain's armband this season. What will be a story to follow if how much playing time he sees this year. The 35-year-old is at the tail end of his career and the Dynamo have to start looking for his replacement this season.

Dynamo broadcasters preview 2020 season

Dynamo TV play-by-play announcer Glenn Davis and color commentator Eddie Robinson, a two-time MLS Cup Champion with the club, previewed the season on this week's Soccer Matters with Glenn Davis.

Expectation - MLS Cup Playoffs

After missing the MLS Cup Playoffs in five of the last six seasons, its playoffs or bust for the Houston Dynamo. The expectation and the standard should be playoffs as more than half of the league is granted entry into the postseason.

It's a toss up from there for the Dynamo as far as lifting the MLS Cup, and from that perspective it's the same old Dynamo. While the club expects to "compete" for the MLS Cup, the gap between them and the true contenders is wide in terms of difference makers.

With one of the lowest payrolls in the league, the Dynamo are gambling on the "moneyball" way to a championship. Perhaps the better bet for a title, and one with similar prize money and a berth into the Concacaf Champions League, is the underappreciated Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup - a title the club won in 2018.

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