Will Bruin will score more goals this year than any year before, and could potentially vie for the Golden Boot.
No, I have not had my brain checked, but I’m fairly certain I’m not in need of padded walls and a straitjacket…yet.
Bruin is a special creature. Residing in Houston for his entire professional career, the relatively mild mannered striker has grown a reputation of ultimately underperforming year after year. With expectations high for him, each season ends with fans in the southern reaches of Texas questioning what to do with the front line.
Last year, however, Bruin began to show what he is capable of. Netting eleven goals in 2015, he finished as the Dynamo’s leading scorer, and came up one goal short of his personal best. The caveat to this feat is that six of those goals game within a thirty day window encompassing most of the month of May. Before and after that short stretch, long and agonizing periods of time would start and end without a goal from the well-groomed front man. Bruin, in five years, has only ever achieved a hat trick once, in his rookie year (7th professional appearance in fact). Worse still, he has only successfully shot on goal more than twice in a match 14 times in his 166 games played.
All of that may change soon.
In the first six games of the 2016 season, Bruin has already shown he is smarter on the ball than in previous years. Only eleven shots taken so far, but six of them have been at or behind the goalkeeper. His SOG percentage is the best it has ever been after the first six appearances at 54.5% (his worst came in 2012 with 26.1% of his balls on target to start the season). In comparison, Bradley Wright-Phillips’ record setting year began with 41.7% shots on goal over his first six games (and finished the year with 52.3%). Sebastian Giovinco’s start last year? 39.3% (finished with 40.3%).
More importantly, Bruin has been efficient with the few opportunities he has been given, scoring three times in eleven chances. His decisions have awarded him with an impressive 27.3% scoring rate. Of the top ten leading scorers so far this year, only Bruin and Michael Barrios (4 goals) have maintained over 25% without a penalty goal padding their numbers. Bruin’s history when beginning seasons has seen his percentages rise only as high as 23.1%, but also as frighteningly low as 5.9%. To say his start in 2016 is commendable would be an understatement to his personal growth.
One issue with being a striker is being fed. When it comes to Houston, the leading scorers have most commonly been midfielders (typically Giles Barnes in an advanced role) or Geoff Cameron. Even Brian Ching sat behind Bobby Boswell in one of his final years on the Dynamo leaderboard. The Dynamo midfield has been responsible for a large portion of the team’s goals each year, and those goals came at the expense of Bruin’s personal numbers. That’s not to say that the forwards do not do their jobs. Opening space for players such as Giles Barnes or Brad Davis to take shots themselves is an unquantifiable trait for a striker, and Bruin’s style lends his teammates that kind of time and open grass. However, with a new coach in Owen Coyle and players like Davis leaving to rival teams, the onus falls back to the front line to produce.
The new 4-2-3-1 formation Owen Coyle has deployed benefits Bruin greatly compared to the standard 4-4-2 of last year. With Wenger and Barnes on either side and Maidana pushing through the middle, Bruin is able to roam in between the gaps that open up when defenders are forced to close down on the other three. Will the others still contribute to the scoring? Absolutely, but Bruin will see continual balls through the backline and to his feet, where he can take more and more shots. These weapons were not available to Coyle last season, and the formation usually resulted in placing barnes immediately behind Bruin as a reserved forward or in the middle with Cubo Torres lining up front. Now, the team has reaped greatly by unleashing a flurry of goals in the first few games. Now, coach Coyle must get the teams set and in harmony to see that their recent performances - currently lacking in the goal department - do not continue its downward trend. Assuming he maintains his current efficiency, Bruin may very well be the prime benefactor of that frenzy, and could be competing with the best strikers in the league at the end of the season.
Will Will Bruin be able to maintain the level of efficiency that currently eclipses previous golden boot winners? Will he be able to find more space to take more shots? Will Will will his will willingly as an imposing figure up front, or will Will unwillingly will his spot to Cubo Torres at the will of Owen Coyle?
Call me crazy (I might be after that last sentence). Lock me away and medicate me heavily if you must. But I truly believe this is Will Bruin’s year.