After finishing the 2016 season at the bottom of the Western Conference, the Houston Dynamo went through a complete overhaul. From new head coach Wilmer Cabrera, to a slew of new players, the 2017 Dynamo were a completely different team. And their results were completely different. Houston not only made the playoffs, but made a run to the Western Conference Final in Cabrera’s first season. Now with expectations much higher, can the Dynamo prove 2017 wasn’t a fluke?
Off-Season Grade: B+
The two biggest moves of the Dynamo offseason were signing two players they had on loan last year to permanent deals, team MVP Juan David Cabezas and forward Alberth Elis. Cabezas made 27 appearances in 2017 and led the team with 1,052 passes completed. Cabezas is the type of defensive midfielder teams love to build around. His 77 tackles won and 52 interceptions also lead the team and show just how versatile the Colombian is in the middle of the park. Elis scored 10 goals in his debut season and scored the winner in the Dynamo’s Knockout Round playoff win against Sporting Kansas City. At just 22 years old, the future is bright for La Panterita.
The Dynamo didn’t make any other big moves this offseason but they made some very good moves to bolster their squad depth and add some experienced players. Midfielders Arturo Alvarez and Darwin Ceren were added in trades. Alvarez, a Houston native, has played well this preseason and should be able to plug in to a number of positions in the Dynamo’s preferred 4-3-3. Ceren is another strong defensive midfielder who can spell Cabezas or play alongside him to provide a stout defensive front in front of the backline. With Ricardo Clark leaving in free agency, Ceren is a perfect, and younger, replacement. Goalkeeper Chris Seitz was signed as a free agent and looks to be the likely starter between the posts. Seitz spent the last 7 seasons with in-state rivals FC Dallas.
Perhaps the most intriguing move this offseason is the signing of defender Alejandro Fuenmayor. The 21 year old Venezuelan joins MLS from Carabobo FC. Fuenmayor is very young and has looked quite raw this preseason. With some veteran defenders already in the side, I’d look for Wilmer Cabrera to bring him along slowly. Barring any injuries, I wouldn’t expect to him make a big impact this season but instead spend 2018 learning behind some veterans and preparing a larger role in 2019.
Key Player: Mauro Manotas
With Cubo Torres off to Mexico, it’s (finally) time for Manotas to shine. The Colombian forward has shown flashes of brilliance in his MLS career and now he looks to be the unquestioned starter at center forward. Manotas scored 6 goals in 2016 and 10 last season but 2018 will be his first chance at first team minutes every week. With the wing play the Dynamo have (Elis, Romell Quioto, Andrew Wenger), I expect at least 15 goals from Manotas this season.
Best Case Scenario: MLS Cup
The Dynamo are good enough to win the Western Conference. They lost the Conference Final last year, and you could make the argument that the series would have been much different without Jalil Anibaba’s red card. Can they take the next step in 2018? I believe they can. Seattle is still good, Portland is always tough, rivals SKC and FC Dallas will be there, and the LA teams should compete, but why not the Dynamo? They proved last year that they could channel some of that Dom Kinnear playoff magic and, best case scenario, they’re playing for the ultimate prize in MLS in 2018.
Bold Prediction: Dynamo Go Unbeaten at Home
BBVA Compass Stadium has long been a fortress for the Dynamo. Long winning streaks are common there. The home schedule starts out tough with Atlanta coming to town this weekend, but this is supposed to be bold. So here’s some bold for you: the Dynamo won’t lose a home game in 2018.