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Major League Soccer team previews: HOUSTON DYNAMO

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Significant additions and subtractions: Which Omar Cummings did the Dynamo get in that trade from Colorado, the deflated and measurably less effective version seen recently or the 2010 version who scares the bejeebers out of defenses with all that speed? (Cummings had 14 goals that year.)

Scottish left winger Andrew Driver has been signed on loan from Hearts. If it works out, look for Houston to attempt a longer-term signing. If Driver can make a dent around BBVA Compass Stadium, where the paint is barely dry, look for Brad Davis to operate in more inside spaces. He mostly drifts inside anyway, straying reliably from his old left-sided midfield home.

Eric Brunner arrives via trade with Portland to provide center back depth.

Colin Clark, who never quite gained full velocity in Houston, is now with Los Angeles. Je-Vaughn Watson, mostly a depth provider in midfield around BBVA Compass Stadium, went to Dallas in a late preseason trade.

Strengths: Look where this team is in offensive firepower compared to spring 2012 – and prepare to be impressed. Honduran flash Oscar Boniek Garcia proved his dynamic worth upon summer arrival last year. English league veteran Giles Barnes needed more time, but glowing reports are coming out of Houston’s preseason camp.

As mentioned, Driver’s arrival gives manager Dominic Kinnear different options for Davis and for the midfield in general.

Jermaine Taylor filled in so well last year once Geoff Cameron finally made his move to Stoke City, he now ranks as one of the league’s top 15 center backs. Alongside Bobby Boswell, flanked by Corey Ashe on the left and the improving Kofi Sarkodie on the right and backstopped by goalkeeper Tally Hall… that’s a darned solid back five.

Like Hall, forward Will Bruin will benefit from the confidence boost of a January spent with Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team.

The Dynamo move into 2013 having not yet lost at its home ground. It’s only one season’s worth of games (a 11-0-6 mark), but still…

Pressure points: Injuries took some preseason prep time away from central midfielder Ricardo Clark and left back Ashe. Cummings remains on the mend, as well.

There’s no easing into things; following Saturday’s MLS opener (a real goodie as D.C. United visits in a reprise of last week’s last fall’s Eastern Conference finals series) they motor directly into CONCACAF Champions League play. Houston faces Mexico’s Santos Laguna on March 5 and March 13 in quarterfinal action. Busy, busy, busy.

Past that, it’s really just about navigating a busy schedule and getting past the MLS Cup hump; Houston has lost  in the league final the last two seasons.


Difference maker: Talk about Mr. Consistency: Davis (pictured right) has supplied at least 12 assists in each of the last four seasons. And while Davis gets so much credit for all that wonderful set-piece service, he probably doesn’t get as much credit as deserved for an overall game that has matured. He adds so much in midfield possession, and his defensive tracking remains reliable.

Potential breakout player: Six goals and four assists in 17 matches does not tell the whole story with Oscar Boniek Garcia. With half a season to adjust to MLS, he could be a blur along Houston’s right side. And with an improved midfield, paying extra attention to the Honduran international will be less of an option for opposing defenses.

Bottom line: The roster looks stronger, and that’s saying something considering this is the two-time MLS Cup runner-up. The defense is strong, the midfield is stacked and the forward line has the potential to be special depending on health/recoveries for Cumming and Calen Carr, and if Brian Ching, now 34, can continue being a force off the bench.

(MORE: the entire roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

LINEUPS: Tim Howard starts for USMNT against Costa Rica

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JULY 01:  Tim Howard of the United States gestures during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Belgium and the United States at Arena Fonte Nova on July 1, 2014 in Salvador, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
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The United States takes on Costa Rica in a friendly tonight at Red Bull Arena, as the USMNT must put the Mexico match behind them and focus on the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

The biggest inclusion in tonight’s starting XI is that of Tim Howard in goal, marking his return to the national side after taking a self-imposed sabbatical. It will be Howard’s first appearance for the USMNT since his legendary performance against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup.

Klinsmann has chosen to go with a 4-4-2 tonight, and Geoff Cameron remains the only starter in the back-line from the Mexico match. He’ll partner with Michael Orozco in the center of defense, with Brad Evans and Tim Ream on the outsides.

[ MORE: Fabian Johnson sent home from USMNT after fall-out with Klinsmann ]

In the midfield, Klinsmann has put some speed on the wings through the likes of DeAndre Yedlin and recent call-up Brek Shea. Danny Williams joins Jermaine Jones as the central midfielders.

Up top, Jozy Altidore will play alongside Gyasi Zardes, who returns to his more comfortable position as forward.

Cristiano Ronaldo wins record fourth European Golden Boot

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 13:  Real Madrid football player Cristiano Ronaldo poses with his four Golden Boot Awards as maximun goal scorer of European leagues at The Westin Palace Hotel on October 13, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Cristiano Ronaldo has added another trophy to the collection, winning his fourth Golden Boot as Europe’s top scorer for the 2014-15 season.

The award accounts for goals in league play only, which means the Champions League and domestic tournaments are not included. In La Liga, Ronaldo scored 48 goals in 35 appearances.

[ MORE: 2015 MLS playoff scenarios ]

Ronaldo first won the award after the 2007-08 season with Manchester United, and has now added three more with Real Madrid in 2010-11, 2013-14, and 2014-15.

With his fourth win, Ronaldo moves ahead of Lionel Messi as the only player to win the award four times. Messi has won three, while eight players have won two.

Below is a post from Ronaldo’s Facebook page reflecting on the award:

What a special moment in my professional life!

Winning four Golden Boots is a privilege for me and I’ll keep challenging myself because I want to do better every time and I want to keep chasing for more records.

I have to thank everyone in Real Madrid that made this possible and we want to keep winning more titles and more trophies. Thank you everyone.

Ronaldo alone scored more goals in La Liga play last season than 14 clubs did, which shows how prolific his season was. The only player to score more than 48 league goals in a European season was Messi, who scored 50 in 2011-12.

[ EURO 2016: A look at the 20 teams that have qualified for France ]

While it was a successful year for Ronaldo personally, it was a very disappointing campaign for Real Madrid, who fired manager Carlo Ancelotti after finishing the season without a trophy.