When it was first announced that the Houston Dynamo Football Club would field an MLS NEXT Pro team in the league’s inaugural season, expectations for how that team would perform were far from clear.
Through the first seven games of the Houston Dynamo 2 season, it is fair to say that the team has gotten off to a smashing start, winning six of their first seven games to sit at the top of the league table. This opinion seems to be shared by many, as the first installment of MLS NEXT Pro’s monthly awards saw Dynamo 2 win Team of the Month and head coach Kenny Bundy win Coach of the Month.
For Bundy, these awards are a reflection of the work that everybody with the team put in during the early portion of the Dynamo 2 project.
“This is an award that we'll pride ourselves on. It's really important that we continue to understand it's a team effort and it's a staff effort,” Bundy said. “It's great when you get those accolades because it shows all of the work that everybody's put in, so I'm really excited for the guys, really excited for the staff. It's early on in the season and now is the time to work. We're starting to see the qualities of all of the teams and the quality that this league is going to bring, so I think it's an honor for the team to get team of the month.”
As for being named coach of the month, Bundy was quick to give credit to his assistant coaches.
“I wish it was staff of the month, because I'm the one that sits here on a weekly basis and talks to you guys and, at the end of the day, the final decisions come down to me, but I don't make decisions without the support of the staff,” Bundy said. “Without them, we're not successful.”
The team recognizes the way that Bundy deflects praise to his staff and players, and have made it clear that they believe their head coach worked as hard as anybody for these accolades.
“I think at the end of the day he earned that award for coach of the month and he doesn't give himself enough credit,” Houston Dynamo 2 defender Jathan Juarez said. “He likes to give the credit to us and to the other coaching staff that we've brought in. He gives himself very little credit but he deserves that and hopefully he can get it again the next month and that the team can get team of the month again.”
Even though these awards were only for the month of April, the team has continued its winning ways into May. After a loss to Tacoma to start off the month, the team bounced back this weekend and took down Colorado Rapids 2 by a score of 2-0. The team leads the league with a +8 goal differential and has already developed the first player to sign an MLS contract after competing in MLS NEXT Pro when it was announced this week that forward Beto Avila had signed a contract with the Dynamo.
Despite these early successes, the team is not satisfied, as evidenced by a minor gripe with one of the awards that the team did not win.
“(Goalkeeper) Xavier (Valdez) has kept us in a lot of games by saving penalties and making saves, making simple saves that we are like ‘yeah, he should make those,’ but he still has to make them. As a team and as an organization, we are very disappointed that he didn't get Goalkeeper of the Month last month. I believe that he deserved it,” Dynamo 2 defender and captain Talen Maples said. “I think that is on his head and I think that is on all of our heads, we want everyone to be successful here and I really believe that he deserved it last month. I think this month he is going to get it. It is a whole team as a collective but it's nice to have good players around me helping me make the team play well.”
Valdez continued to stake his claim to best goalkeeper in the league this weekend when he kept another clean sheet, his league-leading fourth of the season.
While the team was happy to win these awards, they are clearly still hungry for more and know that this is only the beginning.
“It is an honor, but I said this to the guys, on October 8 when they're playing the final, the first ever final for MLS NEXT Pro, I don't think anyone's going to really care about the awards that were at the beginning of the season,” Bundy said. “We have to make sure we accept it and that we understand that it's deserved and it's a great honor and we really appreciate it from who voted, but at the same time, it’s business as usual, and expectations are even higher now.”