MLS Season Preview: Houston Dynamo

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Off of two straight MLS Cup appearances, Houston entered the 2013 season as one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference, but after injuries, absences, and a midseason scoring drought pushed them into another four-five game, Dominic Kinnear’s team succumbed one-step short of third-straight final. Though they saw Montréal and the Supporters’ Shield-winning New York Red Bulls out of the playoffs, the Dynamo was unable to continue their mastery of Sporting Kansas City, falling to the eventual MLS champions in the conference finals.

While that slight regression would suggest a wane, Houston’s core remains strong, with only veteran center back Bobby Boswell having departed from the starting lineup that was in place at the end of 2013. While that team was only good enough to finish fourth in the East, it did so while Davis seemed constantly away with the U.S. national team, Boniek Garcia was hampered by injuries and commitments to Honduras, and Will Bruin only found goal twice in a 15-game span in the middle of the season.

Add in Boswell’s regression (playing a significant level below his 2012 performance), and Houston never found top gear in 2013.  When New England visits BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday, however, the Dynamo have a chance to reclaim last March’s promise. While Boswell, Adam Moffat, and Calen Carr (who missed the entire 2013 season) may be gone from the team that lost to the LA Galaxy in 2012’s MLS Cup,  the Dynamo has a series of options that will help the team threaten for another conference title.

Players in: Tony Cascio (loan, Colorado), A.J. Cochran (draft), David Horst (trade, Portland), Michael Lisch (draft), Mark Sherrod (draft)

Players out: Bobby Boswell (selected by D.C. United in re-entry), Calen Carr (out of contract), Brian Ching (retired), Alex Dixon (released), Erich Marscheider, Cam Weaver (option declined)

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Key player: “Eric Horst” (the forced combination or Eric Brunner and David Horst)

Central defense is Houston’s biggest weakness. If Will Bruin returns to his 2012, 16-goal self, it will be the team’s only weakness, with the departure of Boswell leaving Jamaican international Jermaine Taylor to anchor the back line with either David Horst or Eric Brunner. Two Portland Timber cast-offs trying to find new life in Houston? It’s not exactly a formula that’s going to produce the next Matt Besler and Aurélien Collin.

Horst had a strong season for Portland in 2012, while Brunner is two years removed from his last full-time role, yet Kinnear’s gamble on the duo to produce a starter isn’t the biggest issue in defender. Whomever ends up playing along side the incumbent Taylor will be part of a pair that lacks foot speed; one that will be overly reliant on Ricardo Clark and Warren Creavalle for protection. While that midfield duo’s capable of shielding a problematic defense, the need to do so could limit Kinnear’s want to make Clark a force higher up the field.

Brad Davis (pictured) will contend for a spot on the All-Star team, and if he plays to his potential, Boniek Garcia can be the best wide midfielder in the league. But if the central defense doesn’t come together, Houston is unlikely to transcend last year’s fourth place finish. Whether it’s David Horst, Eric Brunner, or “Eric Horst,” Houston needs one of their ex-Timbers to exceed expectations for the Dynamo to meet theirs.

Manager: Kinnear is one of the elite coaches in Major League Soccer. For some, he’s the first name that comes up after Bruce Arena when talking about the league’s best – somebody who should garner U.S. Men’s National Team consideration when Jurgen Klinsmann moves on. Though not every player succeeds under Kinnear, many who have struggled elsewhere do, with the Dynamo boss having almost completely rebuilt the team that won back-to-back titles upon its move from San Jose. Only Davis, Clark, Corey Ashe and Mike Chabala remain from the 2007 champions (and only Davis and Ashe have have had non-stop runs with the team).

Outlook: Sporting Kansas City will be favored to take the East, with plenty bound to put New York and Toronto among the favorites to unseat the MLS champions. Houston, while flawed, should be in that conversation. As their 2011 and 2012 playoff runs showed, the Dynamo’s capable of producing results that exceed its talent. If Kinnear has a team that can get him to November — and with Davis, Garcia, Clark and Bruin, he does — Houston has a chance to play on the season’s final day.

Brace-bagging Chicharito soured by officiating at St. Mary’s

Adam Davy/ PA via AP
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West Ham United nearly pulled off a stunning comeback with 10 men, a late concession making Javier Hernandez’s two-goal day a little less sunny.

The ex-Manchester United man scored in both halves for his first scoring match day in the Premier League since 2014.

[ RECAP: Saints 3-2 West Ham ]

The first came after teammate Marko Arnautovic was sent off for an elbow, while Chicharito’s second marker was followed by Southampton earning its second penalty kick of the match when Pablo Zabaleta interfered with Maya Yoshida‘s attempted header in the box.

Hernandez was not pleased that the Hammers’ game effort down a man went for nothing on the table. From the BBC:

“When you are running most of the game with 10 men, the penalty decision is harsh. We spoke about Marko Arnautovic’s sending off, it is not completely a red card.

“It shows the character of this team that we do not give up. You have to look at the positives and to look forward. It is hard with 11 men but with 10 men it is even harder. I gained motivation and confidence and happy I scored two but the result is what stays in your head.”

Both goals were classic Chicharito, as the relentless Mexican striker was on the scene to beat his marker to two rebounds. West Ham now sits bottom of the Premier League table through two matches.

Burnley 0-1 West Brom: Robson-Kanu scores, sent-off in win

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  • Robson-Kanu scores, sent off
  • Burnley outshoots WBA 18-8
  • Baggies complete just 100 passes

Hal Robson-Kanu‘s late goal helped West Bromwich Albion to a bit of smash-and-grab at Turf Moor, where the Baggies beat Burnley 1-0 on Saturday to improve to 2-0 on the young season.

Robson-Kanu did his best Cristiano Ronaldo, scoring as a substitute and then getting a red card to doom his team to 10 men.

Tony Pulis almost out-did his stingy self, as West Brom completed 253 less passes than the hosts.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Burnley was better early, middle, and late, as Sam Vokes cued up Johann Berg Gudmundsson for a shot that fizzed just wide, and then Gudmundsson was stopped by Foster moments later.

Matt Phillips helped set the table for Robson-Kanu’s goal, winning a 50-50 ball into the path of the Welsh striker.

Robson-Kanu then bodied the ball around some poor Burnley defending and then beat Tom Heaton on a ball he normally manages to handle well.

The striker was then sent-off in the 83rd minute for an elbow to the head Matt Lowton.

 

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Bournemouth 0-2 Watford: Hornets sting late to nab win

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  • Richarlison scores 1st Hornets goal
  • Capoue makes it 2-0
  • Hornets out-attempt AFCB 20-6

Two goals in the final quarter-hour, one from new signing Richarlison, helped Watford to a 2-0 win over hosts Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday.

Etienne Capoue scored Watford’s second goal with an 86th minute marker.

Bournemouth is one of four clubs so far to start with zero points through two matches. Watford has four points, ahead of Liverpool and Southampton on goal differential.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Watford’s Tom Cleverley had a chance early that Nathan Ake blocked, and then Benik Afobe‘s in-tight finish was blocked by a sliding Miguel Britos.

Andre Gray burst down the right of the box to cut left for Richarlison, and the Brazilian collected a second chance while prone to make it 1-0 to the Hornets.

Capoue made it 2-0 with a low rocket in the 86th minute, giving Marco Silva‘s men insurance after collecting Steve Cook‘s softly headed clearing attempt.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

VIDEO: Mexican striker Hernandez bags brace for West Ham

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Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has his first and second Premier League goals since 2014 to open his account as a West Ham United player, though the Hammers lost 3-2 to Southampton at St. Mary’s on Saturday.

Both arrived in fitting fashion, and with West Ham down to 10 men.

Mexico’s first-class poacher was in his office to finish with ease after Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster pushed a Michail Antonio shot onto his path, and then did it again in the closing stages.

[ STREAM: Live PL matches/full match replays ]

Hernandez raced past his marker to finish and give the 10-man Irons a chance at a St. Mary’s comeback following a red card to Marko Arnautovic.

Dusan Tadic, Charlie Austin, and Manolo Gabbiadini scored for Saints.

See the first goal atop the page, and the second below: