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

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.

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Reed Sheppard to Houston seems to be the common consensus. Composite Getty Image.

French 7-footer Alexandre Sarr has widely been projected to follow the footsteps of fellow countryman Victor Wembanyama as the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

But Sarr isn't the only big man expected to have his name called.

Though the June 26 draft isn't loaded with bigs, it does have the two-time national college player of the year and a two-time national champion available.

UConn's Donovan Clingan won two national championships and could go in the lottery with his strong pick-and-roll skills and shot-blocking ability.

Purdue's Zach Edey is expected to go much later in the first round due to his lack of mobility and perimeter shooting, but he is the first two-time national player of the year since Ralph Sampson, so there's likely a place for him in the NBA.

This year's draft also includes Kyle Filipowski from Duke, Indiana's Kel'el Ware and Baylor's Yves Missi, so there will be chances for teams looking to add size.

Then again, some team may even take a chance on using a first-round pick on Southern California's Bronny James, son of NBA career scoring leader LeBron James.

1. ATLANTA HAWKS: Alexandre Sarr, center, France

Sarr doesn't have the all-around skills of Wembanyama, but then no one really does. He's still extremely talented, an athletic 7-footer who can wreck rims and the hopes of opposing shooters. Sarr's shot still needs some work, but he could end up becoming a franchise player in the next few years. Atlanta fans should love watching him throw down lobs from Trae Young.

2. WASHINGTON WIZARDS: Zaccharie Risacher, forward, France

Many NBA mock drafts have Risacher going No. 1 — and for good reason. The 6-foot-9 forward has the skills of a guard and should be a perfect fit for today's NBA. Risacher is a superb catch-and-shoot wing who can beat defenders off the dribble and has a huge defensive upside with his length and athleticism. He may end up being the franchise player the Wizards need in their rebuild.

3. HOUSTON ROCKETS: Reed Sheppard, guard, Kentucky

The Rockets need shooters and Sheppard is certainly that. The 6-3 guard may be the best shooter in the draft — his 52% mark would have led Division I last season if he had enough attempts to qualify.

He has a high basketball IQ — both parents played at Kentucky — and averaged 12.5 points as a freshman.

Last week's mock draft also had Sheppard going to the Rockets.

4. SAN ANTONIO SPURS: Stephon Castle, guard, UConn

The Huskies were loaded with talented players in their title defense last season and Castle had no trouble fitting in as a freshman. The 6-6 guard is a solid playmaker who can get his own shot and is a hard-nosed defender. His size and athleticism could end up making him one of the best players of the draft, particularly if he improves his outside shot. Even at 19, he’s already a proven winner.

5. DETROIT PISTONS: Matas Buzelis, forward, G League Ignite

Buzelis bypassed college basketball to play in the G League and improved his draft status by gaining muscle while rounding out his game. The 6-8 forward is an excellent playmaker who can see over defenders and finishes strong at the rim in transition. Buzelis will need to work on his perimeter shooting, though: He hit 27% from 3 for the Ignite last season.

6. CHARLOTTE HORNETS: Donovan Clingan, center, UConn

Clingan's a proven winner as the massive anchor to UConn's back-to-back NCAA titles. Though he doesn't fit the NBA mold of a perimeter-shooting big man, the 7-2, 280-pounder is a load for opponents inside at both ends of the floor and would be a great fit for a Charlotte team that was 25th in the NBA in blocked shots last season. Clingan also is excellent at finishing on lobs, which could be a great fit with LaMelo Ball running the point in Charlotte.

7. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS: Rob Dillingham, guard, Kentucky

Portland was last in the NBA in 3-point percentage last season and Dillingham's 44% mark in his lone season at Kentucky was nearly 10 points higher than the Blazers' percentage. Though small at 6-1, 165 pounds, Dillingham has a big game with an ability to score at three levels and has the quickness to beat defenders off the dribble. His size could be a liability on defense.

8. SAN ANTONIO SPURS: Ron Holland II, forward, G League Unite

Holland could end up being the best defensive forward in the draft. The 6-7 forward has a nose for the ball defensively — he averaged more than 2 steals a game in the G League — and is excellent in the open floor. Holland can create his own shot, but needs to make more after shooting 24% from 3 on 3.6 attempts per game last season. The Spurs are at least in a position to wait for him to develop.

9. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: Dalton Knecht, guard, Tennessee

A knockdown shooter, Knecht could be a great complement to Ja Morant. The 6-6 shooting guard is superb at shooting off screens and can fill it up in a hurry, like he did while scoring 37 points against Purdue in the Elite Eight. Knecht is close to a finished product already, a 23-year-old who should contribute right away.

10. UTAH JAZZ: Tidjane Salaun, forward, France

Salaun can make it three French players as lottery picks in this year's draft. The 6-9 forward fits the NBA style of play. He can shoot it from deep and improved his game — not to mention his frame — while playing in the French LNB Pro A, the same league as Wembanyama before his move to the NBA. Salaun may be a longer-term project, but has massive upside.

11. CHICAGO BULLS: Cody Williams, guard, Colorado

He’s a thin 6-8, but has the size and athleticism to shoot over or get around defenders. Williams can create his own shot, is an excellent finisher and has good playmaking skills for a shooting guard. He shot a respectable 41% from 3 during his freshman season and has a huge defensive upside with his length and agility.

12. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: Ron Holland, forward, G League Unite

Holland could end up being the best defensive forward in the draft. The 6-7 forward has a nose for the ball defensively — he averaged more than 2 steals a game in the G League — and is excellent in the open floor, which would be a great fit in OKC. Holland can create his own shot, but needs to make more after shooting 24% from 3 on 3.6 attempts per game last season. The Thunder are at least in a position to wait for him to develop.

13. SACRAMENTO KINGS: Devin Carter, guard, Providence

The 6-3 guard has a massive wingspan and vertical leap, which helped allow him make a big jump from 13 points to 19.7 last season. Carter has a high basketball IQ, is a hard-nosed defender and an excellent rebounder for a guard. The son of former NBA player Anthony Carter, he was the Big East player of the year in a league that included Clingan and Castle.

14. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS: Ja'Kobe Walter, guard, Baylor

The 6-5 guard was not shy in putting it up from 3 for the Bears as a freshman, taking more than four a game while shooting 34%. His long wingspan and athleticism give Walter the potential to become a defensive stopper at the next level. Shot selection and adding a bit of muscle to his 197-pound frame will be the biggest adjustments in the move to the NBA, but he's only 19, so there's plenty of time.

15. MIAMI HEAT: Nikola Topic, guard, Serbia

At 6-6, Topic is a superb passer with great vision and size to see over defenders. He also has the strength to get into the lane and can finish strong at the rim, making him able to control a game even without being a great 3-point shooter. Would be projected to go higher — maybe with the Spurs’ first pick at No. 4 — but medical tests showed he has a partially torn ACL in his left knee, which he injured twice last season in Europe.

16. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: Jared McCain, guard, Duke

He was Duke's toughest competitor during his lone season in Durham and is an elite shooter who could fit in on any team. McCain is an excellent shooter off screens and in the pullup game, but can also run the point if needed. He has a high basketball IQ, so should pick up the NBA game fairly quickly.

17. LOS ANGELES LAKERS: Kel'el Ware, center, Indiana

The 7-footer with a 7-5 wingspan has the length and game to have an immediate impact in the NBA. Ware quickly moved up NBA draft boards during team workouts and is a strong rim protector. He's also excellent on lobs and shot 43% from 3 last season, making him the type of stretch big man NBA teams covet.

18. ORLANDO MAGIC: Carlton Carrington, guard, Pittsburgh

The player known as “Bub” gets buckets in bunches and loves the pull-up J. The 6-4 guard has good size to play point guard and, at 19, has plenty of time to develop. His biggest downside: perimeter shooting. Carrington didn’t lack for confidence in his freshman season, attempting 6.1 3s per game, but shot 32% from the arc.

19. TORONTO RAPTORS: Zach Edey, center, Purdue

Even with a lack of mobility and perimeter shooting, Edey was still the first repeat AP national player of the year since Ralph Sampson. At 7-4, 300 pounds, he dominated the college game and will be a handful even in the NBA. The Canadian would be a popular pick by the Raptors.

20: CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: Tristan da Silva, forward, Colorado

Any team could use a steady, do-it-all type of player and da Silva is just that. The 6-8 forward doesn't have eye-catching athleticism, but he is smart and has the size and strength to endure the rigors of the NBA. He also can guard multiple positions and may be the most NBA-ready player in the draft after playing four years in Boulder.

21. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS: Isaiah Collier, guard, USC

While Bronny James got much of the hype in Southern California, Collier was the higher-rated prospect out of high school. Once projected as a lottery pick, his draft stock took a bit of a hit during an inconsistent lone season with the Trojans. Even so, Collier has the type of game and solid frame that could translate well in the NBA. The 6-3 guard plays hard with the strength and quickness to get past defenders, but needs to work on his perimeter game after shooting 34% from the college 3-point line.

22. PHOENIX SUNS: Tyler Kolek, guard, Marquette

The Suns have plenty of firepower led by Kevin Durant and Devin Booker but could use a true point guard to help get them organized. The two-time All-American can certainly do that and also provide points when needed, and should be a familiar name to new coach Mike Budenholzer from his time coaching in Milwaukee.

23. MILWAUKEE BUCKS: Yves Missi, center, Baylor

Missi knows his game and sticks to it. A high-motor 6-11 forward, he is a rim runner and shot blocker who didn’t even attempt a 3-pointer last season. The Cameroon native should transition well to the pick-and-roll game of the NBA and is a thunderous dunker, as he proved during his lone season with the Bears.

24. NEW YORK KNICKS: Kyle Filipowski, center, Duke

New York is loaded with Duke fans and Filipowski could be an instant favorite. The sturdy 6-11 center may not be an elite rim protector or a consistent 3-point shooter, but he has good footwork and plays hard. The Knicks had a solid run into the second round of the playoffs and Filipowski could be another piece to help push them deeper.

25. NEW YORK KNICKS: Terrence Shannon, guard, Illinois

Shannon can flat-out score and has shown he can do it in big moments. Sexual assault accusations might have made teams leery of taking the dynamic guard in the first round, but the Knicks might be willing to take a chance following a not guilty verdict earlier this month.

26. WASHINGTON WIZARDS: Johnny Furphy, guard, Kansas

The 6-8 Australian has a smooth shooting stroke and gets his shot off quickly. He also has good touch around the rim and good instincts on defense, often leading to steals. Furphy is not much of a shot creator off the dribble and needs to work on his individual defense, so he could need a year or two of development.

27. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: DaRon Holmes II, forward, Dayton

The 6-9 forward is good in the pick-and-roll game and a strong finisher at the rim. Holmes has improved his outside shooting, hitting 39% from the 3-point arc after shooting 32% the season before. He can defend multiple positions, but would be undersized as a center in the NBA. He also isn’t much of a shot creator, but his pick-and-roll skills may offset that.

28. DENVER NUGGETS: Jaylon Tyson, forward, California

Denver's bid to repeat as NBA champions hit a wall in the second round when its top players were stretched to the limit. Tyson could give them a solid boost off the bench. The 6-6 guard has good size, finishes strong at the rim and is a decent perimeter shooter. He increased his scoring average nearly 10 points to 19.6 last season, so has shown the ability to develop his game.

29. UTAH JAZZ: Bobi Klintman, forward, Wake Forest/Australia

The back end of the first round is typically filled with potential projects and Klintman is an intriguing one. The 6-9 stretch forward from Sweden has good length, both physically and shooting ability. Klintman moves more like a guard and is a good passer for a big man. He will likely need a few years of development before becoming ready, but is worth the risk late in the first round.

30. BOSTON CELTICS: Bronny James, guard, USC

The champion Celtics already have a loaded roster, so there's room to take a chance on LeBron's son. Bronny James has an incredible feel for the game after learning from his father and has a solid 6-4 frame. He had a so-so freshman season at USC, averaging 4.8 points and 27% shooting from 3-point range, but has the potential to be a solid pro. James also could come with a huge bonus if his father follows through with his intention to play at least one season with his son.

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