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The Best of Both Worlds - 2014 FBM Beer-view: Houston Dynamo

With Major League Soccer and the rest of American soccer kicking off in just over a week we've curated an impressive list of players, personalities, broadcasters, front office folk, and fans to have them tell us (and you) about their upcoming 2014 season.

And, of course, pair their hopes and dreams for this season with a tasty local brew.

That's not just a preview... it's a "beer-view".

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By Ryan Turnbow

Team: Houston Dynamo

Coach: Dominic Kinnear

Is he the right man for the job?

With two MLS Cups, four Conference Championships, two Conference Runner Ups & having only missed the playoffs once in eight seasons, Dom’s success with the Dynamo is as unquestioned as his authority. 

Player(s) to watch?

The Dynamo allowed Bobby Boswell, a six year Dynamo starter, to test the free agent market after the 2013 season.  DC United signed Boswell through the Re-Entry Draft and named him team captain for their preseason match with Houston.  Boswell’s departure left an obvious hole in the Houston backline.  The Dynamo responded by adding David Horst and Generation Adidas defender AJ Cochran to a stable of center backs consisting of Jermaine Taylor, Eric Brunner, and Anthony Arena.  Horst and former Timber teammate Brunner are lead candidates to start alongside defensive anchor Taylor.  Horst started with what looks to be Dynamo first team in the most recent preseason game and appeared to have the inside track for the starting spot only to respond to Kinnear’s first team nod by scoring an own goal.  In doing so, he may have reopened the door open for speculation that Brunner should reclaim the starting spot he occupied throughout the 2013 post season. 

On the opposite end of the field is a player who has logged over 7,500 minutes in his first three seasons for the Dynamo, Will Bruin.  Bruin has proven to be a divisive figure amongst the Houston fan base.  Those who compare him to the likes of Chris Wondolowski are as unfair to the player as those who want him banished to Pittsburgh to play for Houston’s partner ULS Pro Team, the Riverhounds.  After a promising scoring progression in his first two years, Bruin was seen as a player with a nose for the goal.  However, in his third season, despite Bruin’s career high minutes and shot attempts, his goal count fell off pace.  More worrying than the any other statistic, Devin Pleuler awarded Bruin the distinction of being the player with the league’s lowest expected goals added rate.  No surprise to any Dynamo fan, Bruin had enough quality chances to be squarely in the 2013 season’s Golden Boot Race but instead finished with single digit tallies.  The 2014 pre-season has not been much better for Bruin with his lone strike coming against the Dynamo Academy.  In a contract year, the time is now for Bruin and midfield support will never be better.  Bruin and Dynamo fans alike can hope that last year’s dip in production is just that, a dip, and not a sign of things to come.

Predictions for 2014?

Offensive production, depth at defense and formation flexibility will be key to Houston’s season. 

In 2013, all MLS teams combined produced only nine players who shot the ball more than 90 times.  Two of those players, Bruin and Barnes, wear orange.  Unfortunately for Dynamo fans, they also happened to be the only two of that group unable to reach double-digit goals.  Despite their lacking numbers, the duo will be given incumbent treatment to start the season.  But Bruin and Barnes should not sit too comfortably.  Omar Cummings was brought to Houston before the 2013 season to provide speed up front and a goal scoring spark.  Injuries kept him from doing so most of last year, but he has been healthy and on target this preseason.  If goals don’t come early and often from Bruin and Barnes, Cummings won’t hesitate to take on the roll as Houston’s lead hit man.  With a talented and deep midfield to provide service, all three will have ample opportunities to play the role of hero.  If all goes according to plan, the Houston trio will right the wrongs of 2013 and deliver Dynamo fans multiple double-digit goal scorers this year.

Nobody will be happier to see the above prediction come true than the Houston defense, whose midseason form is as crucial to the Dynamo’s success as any other part of Houston’s lineup.  Houston’s summer heat and its ill effects on players are well documented (Right, David Beckham?).  July will see Houston square off against conference foes NYRB and Toronto twice apiece, with a trip to Seattle coming early in August.  If rumors of a Didier Drogba move to Seattle pan out, Houston’s defense could line up against Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Jermaine Defoe, Clint Dempsey & Drogba in a span of 37 days.  Starting outside backs Corey Ashe and Kofi Sarkodie, who logged a field player team high of 2,948 minutes in 2013, are up for the challenge, but if either is out due to injury in July, Houston fans have reason to worry.  The proposition of facing that caliber of attacking power is worrisome even for the healthiest of MLS defensive lineups.  Houston attempting to do so without Ashe or Sarkodie is downright terrifying.  The most likely and reassuring replacement is Willie Creavalle, but Creavalle may be needed in midfield if Boniek and/or Davis are in Brazil for the World Cup.  Speculation that a preseason guest appearance for European journeyman Euan Holden, little brother to hometown favorite Stuart Holden, may turn into a roster spot could help.  Other likely options are Mike Chabala and Brian Ownby, who has been lining up at defense in the preseason.  Heavy perspiration is the norm at BBVA come July but even the coolest of Dynamo fans will have pre-game sweat beading on their brow at the prospect of anyone but Ashe or Sarkodie lining up against their late summer foes.

Houston fans might find the answers both question above in its midfield depth and the flexibility of players like Boniek Garcia, Giles Barnes, Willie Creavalle, and Ricardo Clark.  Kinnear has shown a willingness to shift lineups in order to best exploit the talents of his players.  Garcia can excel as both an outside midfielder and an attacking midfielder.  Barnes has been playing forward since coming to the Dynamo but many see him as a better fit at attacking mid.  Creavalle has played all over the field for Houston including central midfield and outside defense.  Clark can fill the role of a defensive or attacking central midfielder. 

For arguments sake, let’s assume Horst will win the starting defense spot next to Taylor and Houston starts the season in a 4-4-2 formation.  If 2013 and preseason games are any indication, the Dynamo starting lineup will consist of Bruin and Barnes playing attack while Davis, Clark, Garcia and Cascio occupy the midfield with a defense made up of Ashe, Taylor, Horst and Sarkodie. 

Injured defensive back?  Move Creavalle down, Clark back, Garcia to attacking mid and insert Cascio at right midfield.  Need more fire power?  Drop Clark to defensive mid, Barnes to attacking mid and place Cummings up top.  Want to own the center of the field?  Employ a 3-5-2 with Clark and Creavalle playing deep behind Davis, Garcia & Cascio.

Unlike other MLS teams who have brought in headlining DPs, the Dynamo have stayed consistent, hoping small additions to a successful core can propel them to the next level.  Going into the 2014 season, Kinnear has put together the deepest, healthiest lineup yet to start a season at BBVA.  Houstonians should be excited about the prospects of the 2014 season.

Photo Credit: Beers and Ears

Local Beer Pairing:

St. Arnold’s Bishop Barrel 6 – Pumpkinator (Imperial Pumpkin Stout) Aged in Rum Barrels

Brewed: April 26, 2013
Racked: May 16, 2013
Bottled: February 6, 2014
Enjoyed by Houstonians: February 17, 2014
Pumpkinator – 10.4% ABV
BB6 – 13% ABV
Bitterness – 30 IBU
Pumpkinator – 1.094 Gravity
BB6 – 1.024 Gravity

Coach Domenic Kinnear is the patron saint of Dynamo soccer so where better to look for a beer to pair with his Dynamo than Saint Arnold’s, the old guard of Houston breweries?  Taking a fan favorite beer, Pumpkinator, and aging in Appleton Estate 30 Year Rum Barrels can only result in good things.  Much like the 2014 Dynamo Roster, Saint Arnold’s Bishop Barrel 6 is a tried and true formula with a little something added.  And just like the Dynamo in the post season, this beer, best served around 50 degrees, hits its stride after warming up a bit.  Houston fans can hope Canetti’s additions to the 2013 roster do for the Dynamo what barrel aging did for Pumpkinator, take a Houston institution and make it better.

Tags: Beer, Major League Soccer, The Best of Both Worlds

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