BBVA Compass Stadium

Houston Dynamo accepting refundable deposits for potential NWSL expansion team, and why it’s a no-brainer for the league

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Late last fall, U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati revealed the then-debuting National Women’s Soccer League was unlikely to expand for the 2014 season. The same eight teams which began the latest attempt at North American women’s professional soccer would continue carrying the torch in year two. With rumored interest from multiple Major League Soccer teams having persisted throughout the season, the decision was looked at by some as a missed opportunity, by most as opting toward stability. Regardless, the issue was thought to be settled, for now.

But that ‘now’ lasted far shorter than expected thanks to Chris Canetti, the president of MLS’s Houston Dynamo. This week, Canetti confirmed Houston’s interest in emulating the Portland Timbers and starting a sister team in the NWSL. Today, the Dynamo executive took another step, taking to his Twitter account to announce the team was ready to start gauging interest:

[tweet https://twitter.com/ChrisCanetti/status/403657526282973184 width=450 align=center] [tweet https://twitter.com/ChrisCanetti/status/403657639176859648 width=450 align=center]

Canetti went on to say the deposit is only $25 per ticket, the team presumed to be playing at BBVA Compass Stadium, home of the Dynamo. The league’s ninth franchise would also be its most southern geographically, with the league’s only other team outside the country’s northern half being FC Kansas City.

But what of Gulati’s declaration about expansion? The league’s stance now seems to be a never say never policy. If an opportunity like Houston came up — a stable organization that presents a unique opportunity to add another MLS partner — why would you say no? Portland was by far and away the league’s most successful franchise last season (not only winning the league title but drawing 13,320 per game), largely because they were able to build on the foundation laid by the Timbers. Who wouldn’t want another team that could utilize that recipe?

Of course, that’s what people were asking last season. The general response: Stability was more important, a view that didn’t quite make sense. If the goal is to establish a league that can survive the dreaded three-year curse (WUSA and WPS never playing a fourth season), why wouldn’t you want a partner that’s unlike to fold any time soon? Whereas multiple NWSL teams are struggling to prove their semi-pro viability can translate to professional stability, a organization like the Dynamo would strengthen the ranks. More teams with a better chance at long-term survival shouldn’t be ignored in favor of year-to-year consistency.

There are a number of players overseas looking for opportunities at home, whether you’re talking about U.S. national team-caliber players like Christen Press or Meghan Klingenberg or the myriad journey-women players hopping around, trying to make a living. With the popularity of women’s college soccer, the NCAA ranks are producing enough players to stock these teams. And with a lower salary base augmented by subsidies from U.S. and Canadian soccer, it’s not hard to take a franchise from zero to playing in a few months times.

At one point, though, those subsidies are going to go away. It may happen after the 2016 Summer Olympics. Right now, this league wouldn’t survive without the federations paying for each squad’s best talent. If there were more teams like the Portland Thorns, however, the NWSL would have a better chance at survival come 2017.

The big question is whether Houston would be in it for the long run, but that’s what this test is about. If the Dynamo get enough commitments to mitigate the costs of running the team, it sounds like they’ll push forward. We’ll get a chance to see if Texas is truly ready for women’s professional soccer.

And if the response is light? The NWSL gets that low-risk, low-reward consistency people seemed to want.

Disaster in Houston sees Dynamo fall to New York, 3-0, lose control of their playoff destiny (video)

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Seven seconds into the game, Houston was on their way to a potentially back-breaking loss, one which cost them lose control of their playoff destiny. But that’s how long it took for Tim Cahill, streaking toward the Houston defene at the opening kickoff, to score off a long ball from Dax McCarty, the Dynamo’s defensive error paving the way to a 3-0 defeat Sunday at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Setting a league record for fastest goal, Cahill beat Jermaine Taylor in the air on a long ball hit toward Houston’s penalty area. The Red Bull attacker headed into the vacated space, with Taylor’s partner (Bobby Boswell) slow to provide cover. One-timing his volley past Talley Hall from 19 yards out, Cahill hit a ball hit with the outside of his right foot, his shot tailing away as the Houston keeper dove for his left post. With the fifth touch of the game, New York was up 1-0.

Houston generated a number of chances to equalize before Ibrahim Sekagya doubled New York’s lead in the 65th minute. Substitute Bradley Wright-Phillips blasted his insurance off the woodwork and in to put the Red Bulls up three with 15 minutes to play, the 3-0 result vaulting the Eastern Conference leaders back to first in the Supporters’ Shield chase.

With a win next week over Chicago, New York will claim their first major honor in club history as well as earn home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and although Chicago will be fighting for their playoffs lives, the Red Bulls will be favored to close out their campaign with a win at Red Bull Arena.

After the loss, Houston’s third of the season to New York, the Dynamo also find themselves fighting for their playoff lives. Now sitting sixth in the East, Dom Kinnear’s squad will need help to continue their quest for a third straight MLS Cup final appearance. That help could come from New York (who play Chicago next week), Toronto (who face Montréal), or Columbus (taking on New England). If, however, the teams that sit third through fifth in the East all win next weekend, Houston is out.1

It’s an amazing turn of events given Houston seemed to right their ship after their midseason impotence, yet here we are, with one weekend left, and Houston’s decided to out Seattle the Sounders. Not only are they face-planting, but they’re on the outside looking in. At least Seattle had the foresight to collapse once they were all but clinched.2

For a team that many picked in March to come out of the East, Houston’s was an unexpectedly poor performance in a must-win game. And yes, “must-win” gets thrown around too much, but at the point you’re about to lose control of your playoff destiny, you have to start winning games. There’s no way Houston can look at this result and say “live to fight another day.” They no longer get to decide when that next day comes.

The problems have been in defense, where the team is too often giving up goals uncharacteristic of a Kinnear-coach team. They’ve also been in attack, where the team has gone through stretches unable to consistently produce goals.

And not to over-simplify the game, but if you have trouble putting goals on the scoresheet and keeping your opponents off it, then you’re probably not a very good team. Tonight, Houston was not, and if may have cost them a spot in this year’s post season.

1 – Houston is out in that scenario unless they win and out-score New England by 10, in which case they’ll pass the Revolution on the league’s second tiebreaker: Goals scored.

2- San Jose caveats apply.

Two-in-a-row for New York as Houston falls apart (Video)

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Perhaps my memory is failing me, but this might be the worst defensive performance we’ve seen from a Dom Kinnear team.

It’s not just that they gave up four to New York in today’s 4-1 loss. And it’s not that they gave up those goals at BBVA Compass Stadium, a venue that at one time played as a fortress. It’s that it was far too easy for the Red Bulls to use basic execution to leave Tally Hall with almost no chance to prevent the rout.

The first Red Bull goal was a well-placed, well-hit (in an unconventional sense) shot from Eric Alexander, but New York was able to pass right through the middle of New York’s defense to set that up. While roster issues that forced Will Bruin into a start at the head of a midfield three might have contributed to the overall result, Adam Moffat and Alexander López have to do better at the base of midfield.

Thierry Henry expended little effort walking through the Houston defense for the second, Mike Chabala just decides he’s done playing as Jonny Steele makes it 3-1, while nobody seems to be willing to actually challenge New York as they built Lloyd Sam’s 88th minute insurance.

On a couple of the goals, New York looked like they were playing a poorly-prepared college team. It was too early to pull the defense apart. There was too little resistance in the build up. They didn’t have to settle for lower percentage shots, knowing they would be able to get at Hall.

What’s happened to the Houston Dynamo? Normally reliable players like Bobby Boswell and Moffat are making basic mistakes. Will Bruin still can’t buy a goal. They’re not even giving Tally Hall a chance to keep them competitive anymore. Kinnear’s fiddling with his formation, but it’s not going to matter unless these guys start playing better.

It’s not that they’re a little off their game. These players are bad, right now. Missing basic assignments. Almost open nets being missed. At times, even a lack of effort. Houston’s hit rock bottom.

As for New York, this is a great three points to get, but given Houston’s performance, there isn’t much to learn from the match. Red Bull proved they can take advantage of a bad team, but any team playing at the top of their conference should.

And right now (and perhaps, surprisingly), Houston is bad team. Fortunately for them, Montréal’s performance in New England is going to keep them tied on points for the last playoff spot, even if they technically sixth in the East. But right now, they’re not the sixth-best team in the East. They’re playing more like Toronto and D.C. United than the conference’s elite.

Opportunity, but still a tough spot for Houston Dynamo

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A team that has appeared in the last two MLS Cup finals faces danger of not even making the 10-team playoff field in 2013. The Houston Dynamo is sixth at the moment, although armed with the advantage of a game in hand on most clubs higher in the Eastern Conference standings.

That added opportunity for matches will not matter, however, if Kinnear’s team cannot fix the problems that have risen through the summer, primarily the lack of scoring from forwards and some atypical leakiness in the back.

The simmering issues came to boil in last weekend’s 5-0 loss in Montreal, the worst loss in club history, and these problems are exacerbated by the schedule; Houston is in the middle of its busiest stretch of 2013. Try this for a brutal schedule: Seven matches over 23 days, with six plane trips in between.

And it’s not like Houston is training – when they get to train, that is – in some cool climate. Houston’s perennial sultry summers can have a debilitating effect if not carefully and dutifully managed.

All of which brings us to Tuesday’s CONCACAF Champions League match against Panama’s Árabe Unido. With last week’s CCL draw on the road, the Dynamo has a great chance tonight at BBVA Compass Stadium, able to gain great positioning in the reach for next year’s CCL elimination rounds. Kickoff at 8 p.m. ET is on Fox Sports 1.

With a match coming up this weekend in Chicago, against one of the clubs scrapping with the Dynamo for a playoff spot, Kinnear probably doesn’t have a choice but to line up several reservists.

Expect something similar to last week’s lineup as the Dynamo drew with W Connection down in Trinidad; First-choice men such as Bobby Boswell, Corey Ashe, Adam Moffat, Giles Barnes, Brad Davis, Oscar Boniek Garcia and Will Bruin were all on the bench to start that one. (Ricardo Clark, now injured, was also missing.)

Remember, passionate MLS supporters want teams from our part of the world to rise in Champions League, some believing the league will take a giant leap forward once an MLS teams claims the regional trophy. That may or may not be true.

But this is definitely true: Major League Soccer clubs and coaches are judged primarily on two things. First, did they make the playoffs? Second, how far did they go in the playoffs?

That’s it. Idealism where CCL is concerned is grand and all, but the reality is that league play dominates the narrative for an MLS club.

That’s why the Dynamo reservists will most likely be on the spot tonight at BBVA Compass Stadium.

MLS Preview: Houston Dynamo at Montréal Impact

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  • Houston winless since May 8
  • Dynamo without Brad Davis, Boniek Garcia
  • Montréal claiming league best points, goals per match

On May 8, Houston went to RFK Stadium and blitzed D.C. United, a result that not only reaffirmed our doubts about Ben Olsen’s squad but helped confirm preseason suspicions about the Dynamo. Having solidified in the offseason, Houston convinced most pundits that they’d avoid the fifth place finish that complicated last year’s route to a second-straight MLS Cup final. Since, however, Dominic Kinnear’s team is winless in a four-match span that’s seen the team handed their first losses at BBVA Compass Stadium. They’ve also managed only one of a possible six points from New England and Columbus.

Houston also played Sporting Kansas City twice in that span, so it’s not like the Dynamo had the easiest of months, but the struggles still bring preseason expectations into perspective. At MLS Cup last year, when I asked Kinnear about his team’s fifth place finish, he expressed some mild disappointment with his team’s placing. “We certainly didn’t try to finish fifth,” he said, a response which, months later, provided a hint as to how a bulked up Dynamo team would tackle the 2013 season.

With the second-highest point rate in the East, Houston appear to have improved on last year’s mid-table performance, yet given their last months’ slide, it’s worth considering where things may be going wrong. With only two goals in their last four games, the answer seems clear, but with Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia just returning from national team duty, things may not get better tonight in Montréal (8:00 p.m. EDT kickoff at Stade Saputo). Will Bruin, Andrew Driver – somebody needs to find a way to create chances in the absence of the team’s two best players.

The Impact are coming off their own disappointment, having lost this weekend in Columbus. Though Montréal remain the only MLS team claiming at least two points per game, the Crew provided a reminder of the Impact’s unique quality.  Given their talents and how Marco Schällibaum’s setting his team up, Montréal is the team you’d least want to grant the opening goal. Not coincidentally, despite the league’s best goal rate, they’re also a team disproportionately hurt by giving up the first goal.  Even a team like Columbus, a decent but far from elite side, can take down the Impact if they score early and force them to play so different from their base approach.

But when we’re talking about a team that’s sitting atop the Eastern Conference, these are trifling concerns. All successful teams have styles they prefer. Montréal’s is a patient, conservative approach that becomes opportunistic, aggressive when Patrice Bernier finds Marco Di Vaio in transition. Of course, they’re not unbeatable, but a short-handed Houston making the long, mid-week trip to Quebec, we’re likely to see why Montréal, in only their second season, are a viable Supporters’ Shield contender.

If they win, Montréal will open up a four-point lead on second place New York, a huge gap considering the Impacts’ two matches in hand. If Houston wins, they’ll leap into a tie with Red Bull for second place, one point behind the conference leaders.

Other notes: Aside from Davis and Garcia’s absences, both teams will be at full strength … Referee Chris Penso has issued eight red cards and given 13 penalties in his 38 MLS games … Teams are 1-1-1 all-time against each other … Montréal has recently flirted with a 4-4-2 formation, trying to get Andrew Wenger more time. For former No. 1 overall pick was ineffective in Columbus, subbed off early in the second half … With captain Davy Arnaud available, Montréal could return to the 4-5-1 … Houston get Bobby Boswell (suspension) and Jermaine Taylor (international duty) back in central defense, allowing Ricardo Clark to return to midfield … When that defense lost Eric Brunner early in Columbus, Anthony Arena made his full debut; Rookie Jason Johnson got his first start of the season in Columbus.