Some wrote it off as beginner’s luck. In 2006 the Houston Dynamo won the MLS Cup in their first ever season as a Major League Soccer franchise, with the likes of Stuart Holden, Paul Dalglish and Dwayne De Rosario all part of the Texans’ title-winning team. But proving that no luck of the Irish was involved, the Dynamo won it all again in 2007, lifting silverware in successive seasons.
Indeed, Houston were once synonymous with winning. They were a franchise engrained in a culture of success, also making the MLS Cup final in 2011 and 2012. But something went badly wrong along the line. The Dynamo are now arguably North American soccer’s most tediously tragic club, enduring three dismal years with last season their worst, finishing bottom of the Western Conference.
A corner might have been turned, though. Houston’s opening day win over defending champions Seattle Sounders suggests that the dark days of the Dynamo may be behind them, with new head coach Wilmer Cabrera masterminding a 2-1 victory. There had been signs in pre-season that under Cabrera the Dynamo would be capable of an opening day upset against the Sounders, but even still, the marker put down by the Texans in their first fixture of the 2017 campaign surprised most watching.
— Houston Dynamo (@HoustonDynamo) March 5, 2017
So could the Houston Dynamo be this season’s surprise package in MLS? North America’s top flight is more conducive to rags-to-riches stories than most, meaning it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the Texans might complete a remarkable turnaround and at least finish in the play-offs in 2017.
Of course, it should be recalled that the Houston Dynamo enjoyed a successful start to last season, scoring eight goals in their opening two games, including recording a 5-0 win over FC Dallas in the Texas derby. That, however, would be the peak of their campaign, going on to finish bottom of the Western Conference, while FC Dallas went on to top the table.
Seasons are not defined by opening day results, but they can provide something of a springboard. Saturday’s win over the Seattle Sounders offered an idea of what kind of team Houston will be under the charge of Cabrera, making the most of their threat in the final third. The Dynamo may well turn out to be among the most dynamic in MLS this season when it comes to going forward.
“We’re not a team that’s going to be possession-oriented because we don’t have those type of players,” Cabrera said.
“We have attackers. We have guys who are dynamic. And we have midfielders who work hard. So this is going to be the Houston Dynamo. It’s not about having more possession. Right now it’s about, when we attack, we need to be more effective.”
Cabrera has indeed focussed on turning Houston into an overtly attacking outfit. Everything is geared to make the most of what possession they have, with Hondurans Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto providing pace and directness on the wings and a rejuvenated Erick Torres Padilla the cutting edge up front.
They also have a fortified midfield following the addition of Juan David Cabezas, who was denied the chance to make his MLS debut against Seattle but will soon impose himself on the league. The signings of A.J. DeLaGarza, Leonardo and Adolfo Machado have also given the Dynamo a new look defensively which should give them a much stronger grounding for the season ahead.
It’s all part of the franchise’s plan to reverse their fortunes. Houston have big-money backing after all, and now there has been a holistic overhaul of the front office to ensure the club doesn’t suffer another season like the last three.
“This is step one to bringing things back to where we used to be,” Houston Dynamo president Chris Canetti said at the time of Cabrera’s appointment in October of last year.
“We know we're a championship caliber club and organisation. We understand why we've gone through some hard times. We are ready to start rectifying those situations.”
The hope is that with Cabrera in charge the Houston Dynamo can replicate the sort of success their rivals FC Dallas have enjoyed in recent seasons under Óscar Pareja, with an exciting brand of soccer underpinned by a steady flow of young talent into the first team fold. The precedent has been set and while Houston might want to admit it, they will now hope to follow it.
Next up for Houston is a home clash against the Columbus Crew and a genuine opportunity to rack up two wins from their opening two fixtures. There’s a long way to go, with just one game of the 2017 season played, but the Dynamo could be on course for a surprising year.