MLS 2012 preview: Houston Dynamo
2011 record and finish: 12-9-13 (Second place in Eastern Conference)
Additions: F Brian Ching; M Nathan Sturgis; F Colin Rolfe; F Mac Kandji; GK Erich Marscheider
Losses: M Francisco Navas Cobo; GK Evan Newton; F Carlo Costly; D Hunter Freeman; F Jason Garey; D Eddie Robinson; M Danny Cruz
Key questions facing this team
1. Who will score the goals?
In 2011, the Dynamo's Golden Boot was split between four players with a paltry five goals apiece. Two of those players, Bobby Boswell and Geoff Cameron, spent all or much of the season as central defenders. The third, Will Bruin, was a rookie. And the fourth, Brian Ching -- mercifully returned home safe and sound after the Montreal Impact called him on his select-me-and-I'll-retire bluff in the expansion draft -- is nevertheless 33, increasingly prone to injury and a full three years removed from a double-digit scoring season.
Some advanced math, corroborated by results from the ESPN labs, tells us that this leaves the Dynamo with exactly zero proven goal-scorers for this year, since disappointing Honduran international Carlo Costly wasn't brought back and Calen Carr, Cam Weaver and the newly acquired Mac Kandji have never notched more than four goals in a season. That and the four forwards drafted by the Dynamo don't inspire much more confidence. After being snubbed by Kris Boyd, the Dynamo remain on the lookout for a scorer.
2. Are the Dynamo deep enough?
Houston wasn't particularly deep last year, a deficiency plain to see during the MLS Cup final when star midfielder Brad Davis' injury exposed the team's lack of offensive alternatives. This year, by virtue of that spot in the final, the Dynamo will enroll in the CONCACAF Champions League too. But this offseason, if anything, made Houston weaker rather than deeper. And with the added grind of mid-week trips to Central America, more will be asked of this squad than ever before.
3. Can Brad Davis replicate his form?
Davis' promotion to captain was well-deserved, having led the team to the 2011 final and ending the season as runner-up in the MVP chase. The laser-guided crosses, long passing and dead balls originating from his left boot are the most dangerous in the league, producing a whopping 40 assists over the last three seasons. The Dynamo is awfully reliant on his service, though, and with a dearth of quality forwards seeking his deliveries, that probably isn't about to change. For the Dynamo to get back to the playoffs, they will need Davis fit and at his best.
Biggest X factor: Surviving the opening stretch
Like many teams opening stadiums in recent years, the Dynamo won't be able to move into their new digs until a few months into the season, as BBVA Compass Stadium will see its first MLS action May 12, with the Dynamo hosting D.C. United. That means the team's first seven games of the season will be on the road. If that isn't daunting enough, the Dynamo had the worst road record of any team to make the playoffs last year and the fifth-worst overall, going 2-6-9. "Coming out of the first few games with a few points is really crucial for us," said coach Dominic Kinnear. "We need to be better on the road than last year." Not many teams get off to bad starts and recover.
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Breakout player to watch: Will Bruin
As a rookie, Bruin had the look of a big, powerful striker who could score in a variety of ways. With such meek competition up front, he should have plenty of chances this year to score far more than the five he managed as a rookie last season.
"The challenge is the same thing: to make MLS Cup and to win it," said Kinnear. "But seeing as we made the MLS Cup final it's always a tough challenge to follow that up." This is especially true given how much talent the Dynamo let slip. Aside from the dearth of forwards, the team lost its starting right winger in Danny Cruz and considerable depth in the back. Nathan Sturgis was a nice pickup for the midfield, but considering the schedule congestion created by a CONCACAF Champions League berth, the Dynamo seem unlikely to make a run like they did last year. Then again, never underestimate what Kinnear is capable of with limited talent.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderESPN.
Major League Soccer 2012
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