|Photo by Lou Roesch|
Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved
HOUSTON, TEXAS (January 23, 2018) Seven weeks and two days ago, the 2017 season ended on a disappointing note in a Western Conference final loss to Seattle Sounders. Fast forward to January 23rd as the Houston Dynamo opened the 2018 pre-season under blue skies, sunshine and a balmy 64 degrees, a far cry from last week’s near ice-age temperatures. In shorts and t-shirts, Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera put his men through their paces for the first time in a season that is not short on excitement or expectations. To a man from the coach himself to the most proclaimed veteran to the newest rookie in camp, this year’s confluence of players professed that this year will continue the unfinished business of the upstart 2017 squad that surprised the world of Major League Soccer.
In 2018, the Dynamo return a solid core of players seeking to build on the continuity and success of 2017 that saw them not only return to the playoffs but also become the most prolific scoring side in club history. Unlike last season, the expectations to hoist “The Cup” on December 8th are there from day one. With 34 players in camp and 24 under contract there is plenty of competition to be had especially at right back. No one will be sitting on their laurels from last season. Not Cubo or Manotas or Wenger. Not Beasley or De La Garza nor Leonardo or any other member of the Orange and White will be taking anything for granted.
Last season, Cabrera was entering his first year as the Dynamo head man and had a lot of question marks to be answered. How would 11 new players fit in and how quickly would it take for them to gain some chemistry. Cabrera was impressed by the players commitment to prepare, to execute and to win.
“The player’s commitment,” said Cabrera as he took a quick look back at the 2017 campaign. “It was fantastic, beautiful. They were committed. They were trying to do the best during practices and in the games. That is something that was rewarding because they were rewarded by their effort, by their sacrifice.”
This season, it will take that same commitment and then some added Cabrera.
“We are going to prepare ourselves for more. Everyone is excited like all the 23 teams. Little by little we need to translate that excitement into work, into results and how we integrate and prepare the team to perform at the level this team needs to compete and be successful against the other 22 teams.”
Andrew Wenger and Arturo Alvarez were among the many who stepped in front of the microphones talking about how special last season was and how exciting this season may be both for the players and the fans.
Alvarez, a native Houstonian was playing for FC Dallas when Houston got its franchise in 2006. Now 11 seasons later, the midfielder gets to put on the uniform of his hometown team.
“Playing at home doesn’t come around that often. It’s even better,” said the Salvadoran team player when asked about getting to play not just for his hometown club but a team coming off a sensational 2017. “They were only a game away from the MLS Cup and you want to go to a team that has a good group, a good coaching staff and hopefully we can build on top of that. The goal (this year) will be getting to the MLS Cup.”
Alvarez joins a crowded midfield that includes Tomas, Martinez, Juan David Cabezas and young newcomer Daniel Ceren just to name a few.
Wenger, now in his third season since arriving for the 2016 season, was as excited as any player on the pitch. Last season, Houston used Wenger as a facilitator taking advantage of his ability to stretch the defense and deliver pinpoint precision services into the box. This season looks to be as exciting for the former Mac Hermann trophy winner.
“I think the sentiment is that everyone is excited to be back,” said Wenger when asked about the short pre-season. “It’s great that we were successful last year and that the front office was able to keep a lot of our prominent players so there’s a lot of familiarity there and that let’s us look to future and continue to move forward and not rebuild our base. We want more.”
Rookie goalkeeper Michael Nelson fresh from SMU and the 2018 MLS Draft is a lifelong Dynamo fan growing up when Houston played at Robertson Stadium on the campus of the University of Houston. The Seven Lakes high school alum is excited about his opportunity to play for the team he grew up watching and make his mark between the pipes.
“It’s the realization of a dream,” said Nelson when asked what it was like to step on the pitch for the team he grew up watching. “I was super excited to get this opportunity and I’m just ready to get to work and prove that I’ve got what it takes. Being around high expectations, there’s pressure, there’s THE pressure to succeed quickly. I appreciate that. I feel fortunate to have that pressure. Coming into an environment that is used to winning and expects winning and has a culture of success can be super valuable for your mindset. Coach (Wilmer Cabrera) has told me I have potential and I have everything to prove. The work starts now.”
It’s just one day in the books of a long, long season. In fact, it’s 299 long days till MLS Cup 2018 but before you know it March 3rd Opening Day will be here and that’s when the real excitement will begin.