First up, our guest Derek Stowers answers Center Line's three questions.
1 - What are the biggest changes Owen Coyle have implemented in Houston for the 2015 season? Has everyone got used to his accent by now, and has he got used to the Houston heat and humidity?
One big difference between Owen Coyle this year and Dom the year before is Coyle is more willing to tinker with lineups and formations and let players compete for positions a bit more openly than Kinnear who often utilized his vision of the "strongest lineup" which seldom changed week in and week out. Both styles have their strengths, but what's been refreshing this year is seeing players get revived starts in a variety of places. Alex Lopez didn't get many opportunities to play under Kinnear, but Coyle played Lopez in his familiar attacking midfielder role along with starts at right mid, left mid, and even as a forward in the preseason. It's that commitment towards the players that have helped him win the favor in the locker room following Dom's departure - who was very much a player's coach.
The other big change has little to do with Coyle at all, but rather the Front Office. Kinnear and Dynamo President Chris Canetti shared GM roles, but Coyle doesn't have that designation and the Dynamo brought in General Manager/Vice-President Matt Jordan to handle a lot of the player recruiting and scouting. Jordan has helped bring in players like Raul Rodriguez who helped shore up a very leaky backline as well as bringing in LM/RM Leonel Miranda who has proven to be a creative spark off the bench.
I would imagine that many of the players have gotten used to Coyle's accent, but I can say with confidence that anyone that doesn't listen to him regularly (or even if you do) will not catch 100% of what was said. I'm not sure whether or not Coyle has "gotten used to" the weather here, but he's at least a supporter of wearing shorts which helps. Having lived in the city my whole life, I don't think anyone gets used to the heat as much as we put up with it until fall.
2 - The transfer window just closed - given Houston's inconsistency, was there any business that you would have like to have seen done by Houston that wasn't?
Not at this moment. The Dynamo were able to make some moves happen like dealing Corey Ashe to Orlando City SC which gave them money to trade to Philadelphia for an international roster slot (used for Cubo) and Sheanon Williams. Williams has come in and really taken over the right back role and his long throw has provided the Dynamo with another set piece weapon. The other big thing to happen this summer is the arrival of Cubo who, after lengthy back and forth legal trouble/speculation, was cleared to come in and play for the Dynamo. That's support up top and in the defense which were our biggest areas of concern over the offseason.
The trouble for our club has been lineup consistency issues caused by too many call-ups to international teams - we had 5 starting players called up to the Gold Cup, too many injuries, and suspensions. In our last game against the LA Galaxy for example, we had 8 players out to call-ups, injuries, and suspensions and were playing our 3rd game in 7 days. Once players get healthy, consistent performances should return.
3 - The last two players from the 2005 Earthquakes still on the Houston Dynamo squad are Brad Davis and Rico Clark. They're both still putting in the hours for the Dynamo - how do you envisage that Kinnear could exploit his experience with them, and the rest of the team, to win the third matchup of 2015?
With Brad Davis you know what you get: basically don't foul around the 18 yard box and don't give him a clear shot on goal or he will punish you. He's been up and down from a form perspective this year, but has put together two good performances back-to-back so shutting down his ability to pick out players will be key. Ricardo Clark unfortunately won't feature in this game as he suffered a hamstring injury when he scored the equalizing goal against Sporting Kansas City last week. That could make it more difficult for Kinnear to predict the formation that Coyle will employ, but he has experience with plenty of other guys on the roster.
Frustrating and isolating Will Bruin will be important due to his struggles without support, forcing David Horst to make plays from the back, and letting Luis Garrido get too zealous with his challenges could all play into Dom's strategy. It's just hard to predict how the Dynamo will play when they have only 1 defensive midfielder available and we've played 2-3 the entire season.
Next up, Nerdy's answers to Derek's questions about the San Jose Earthquakes.
1 - The Earthquakes are in a very similar position to the Dynamo - on the outside of the playoffs looking up, which is one reason why a win for either team would be a big step towards clawing up the standings. Consistency seems to be the issue for both clubs, though the Quakes definitely started the year with a bit more gusto than they have had lately. What's something that Dominic Kinnear can point to as a reason for consistency issues for his team?
Yes, with the initial excitement of the new stadium wearing off, the fans are starting to voice their concerns over the state of affairs out on the field. As they prop up the longest outdoor bar in North America they're wondering whether the organization can really field a competitive team without the same megabucks investment as many teams in MLS.
Another issue has been summertime absences due to national team duty (Wondolowski and Cato) or injury: Goodson has been dinged up of late, and nobody seems to know what has happened to Lenny, and when (even if) he might return (paging Steven Lenhart, Steven Lenhart to the white courtesy telephone phone).
All of those absences speak to the myriad of starters up top in the Quakes lineup this season. Sherrod and Jahn have not been effective, but recent arrival, Quincy Amarikwa (from Chicago Fire), has already stepped up with three goals, and restored some of the personality that is missing with the loss of the Bash Brothers. In the meantime, the defense has hit a rough patch, and with Goodson questionable for this weekend, Kinnear may again move Jordan Stewart to CB, with Shaun Francis covering Stewart's spot on the flank.
2 - Speaking of Dominic Kinnear, coming into a new club and expecting to win, especially in this league, is no easy task. Realistically speaking, what would a successful year look like for the Quakes under Kinnear, and what would an unsuccessful year look like? Would there be a tipping point for the Earthquakes organization to let Kinnear go? Or are they committed to the Dominator throughout the season?
At this point, with the Quakes' great start to the season fizzling out. just making the playoffs would be accepted as a success by the fans, if not by the organization. The Dominator (I'm totally stealing that nickname by the way) came back to San Jose with a lot of respect for what he'd achieved with the Quakes prior to the move to Houston. That level of esteem should earn him a couple of seasons in charge while he molds the team to his specifications. My esteemed colleague Luke James put Kinnear's challenge into perspective at Center Line earlier this week.
I don't believe there's a tipping point, at least for the time being, unless of course he trades away Chris Wondolowski -- again.
3 - Chris Wondolowski and Quincy Amarikwa have the makings of a quality striking tandem following Amarikwa's acquisition from the Chicago Fire, but now that Wondo is back, he's being played in the midfield - a place where we've seen him in the past, but it's not the place we like to see him play. What are some of the strengths to having Wondo in the midfield for the lineup and do you see that as a long term place for him or will he be moving on up to the forward position any time soon?
Midfield is not the place we'd like to see Wondo play either, and it's perplexing to most of the Quakes fans. I have yet to see a rational explanation for moving the team's prime striker. Wondo's never really been renowned as a speedy player - more guile than pace - and I don't really see any evidence that's he's lost a step or two as a reason to move him to midfield.
Despite the move to midfield, Wondo remains the Earthquakes leading scorer with nine goals in 2015 - Amarikwa is second with three. I do think that Wondolowski has developed into a more complete player this season - I wonder if that's due to his time with the USMNT. He's always read the game well, and his ability to execute is now at the same level.
I've liked what I've seen of Amarikwa so far: intense, athletic and at first glance quite productive. Now that Wondo is back, he may develop the level of rapport with Amarikwa that will turn them into the dynamic duo (Quindolowski? Wondokwa? I digress.) that turns the Quakes season around. If Amarikwa can deflect some of the attention of the opposing defenders, then we might see Wondo sneaking in a few more forward forays.