Over the past four years, Houston Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear has reloaded year after year, replacing valuable contributors such as perennial MVP Dwayne De Rosario, Nate Jaqua and Joseph Ngwenya. But for the club to continue its success this year, one of its biggest challenges involves replacing two of last year's top players: Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden.
“We lose two national team players and that’s going to be difficult to fill,” forward Brian Ching said. “But that’s the job of the veterans to step up and to make a claim [for the open spots] in the midfield.”
“Holes? We’ve had holes before,” Kinnear said. “We have Geoff [Cameron] in there, and he’ll find his way -- and people realize he’s a good player. He needs to find ways to get open and sometimes that’s moving without the ball. We can throw Brad in there and Lovel Palmer. The health of Richard [Mulrooney] is important and we have Brian [Mullan] and Corey [Ashe], so I think we have a very good midfield.”
Cameron, entering his third season, understands that the departures mean more competition in the midfield.
“More competition for the team and guys working harder just makes us play better for each other and the team,” Cameron said. “It’s not clear cut like it was last year or the year before, so the midfield is going to be firing [on all cylinders] and guys are going to be stepping up and challenging for positions.”
Kinnear and his staff wasted no time this offseason acquiring both Palmer and Adrian Serioux, and both will likely earn minutes as defensive midfielders as the season progresses. As a result, it seems more likely that 2009 MLS Best XI defender Cameron will be provided the opportunity to play in the attacking midfielder position. Last year, Cameron garnered mixed reviews after playing a couple of games as an attacking midfielder, but having an entire preseason to prepare may help the 24-year-old better acclimate to his new position.
“It’s going alright,” Cameron said. “[I am] trying to get used to a new position and used to the guys that I’m playing around. It’s getting better and better, and I just have to take my time and not get frustrated with little things. But I think it’s progressing well.”
[inline_node:109163]Though Holden only had one year as a starter before his departure, Clark had been a mainstay in the midfield since the team’s San Jose days. As a result, replacing Clark might be a much more difficult task.
“We all know how valuable he was,” goalkeeper Pat Onstad said. "There’s no one in the league and not too many guys in the world that cover that much ground defensively -- it’s unbelievable. It will be tough to find a guy who covers that ground, but maybe on the other hand we may find someone that brings a different dynamic maybe someone who can spray the ball around a little differently than Ricardo.”
In addition to the more likely options involving Serioux, Palmer and Cameron, Kinnear will also have additional options. On multiple occasions last year, Brad Davis moved centrally and performed well as an attacking midfielder. To do so again would require additional playing time from Ashe, Danny Cruz or Francisco Navas Cobo on the left side of midfield.
“Corey’s been very fortunate that we’ve had all these competitions,” Kinnear said. “I think he’s played in over 80 games for us, and we have seen what he can do. He can beat guys and deliver good balls into the box. Danny’s more a guy who can run off the ball, and if he uses his pace he can get behind guys and cause some problems.”
Another option would be returning right back Mulrooney to central midfield. Mulrooney played primarily in the middle of the park before joining the Dynamo, and he played well when occasionally filling in there over the past couple of seasons. Though Mulrooney can provide an experienced option in midfield, losing the team’s probable starting right back may be too costly a move to make.
“If I am healthy and a game comes up where Dom needs me in the middle, I want to be an option,” Mulrooney said. “Or if he needs me at right back, I just need to be healthy so he can at least put me in the eighteen and possibly start.”
Whoever fills Holden and Clark's boots come First Kick, midfielder Davis is confident that Houston can, once again, be an elite force in the league.
“We respect Stuart and Ricardo very much, but it's part of the game,” Davis said. “I don’t think our team is going to fall apart because they are gone. Love those guys to death and they were very good for us, but I think this team can win without them.”
Added Onstad, “[Ricardo and Stuart] will be missed. We figured it out when we lost Dwayne [De Rosario] which was another big piece and we had a pretty good season last year and we trust Dom to push the right buttons.”