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Aiming for a playoff return, Houston Dynamo tinker with roster, search for an identity

The Houston Dynamo never found themselves in 2015. Week to week, game to game, the club were never quite able to create an identity under first-year head coach Owen Coyle.

Now, as they look back on their second-straight year out of the playoffs, what is now being called a transition year will serve as a cautionary tale. If Houston wants to succeed moving forward, the first thing they think they’ll have to do is develop their own style.

“The great Dynamo teams and pretty much great sports teams in any sport, the one thing they have is an identity,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti told the media at their season ending press conference last Wednesday. “When this technical group came in part of the challenge was establishing an identity that we lost. Every conversation that the technical team has starts off with what’s our identity…. and everything flows from there. We need to return to the place where our team comes out, has an identity and its beat us at our game.”

The primary reasons why Houston struggled to forge their own identity in 2015? A slew of injuries and international call-ups that often took their best players out of the lineup, with Coyle only able to field the same starting XI in consecutive games just once all year.

It became a bit of a vicious cycle for Coyle and the Dynamo. They struggled to establish an identity with their starters injured and away on international duty, and with no stylistic foundation to fall back on, had a hard time on the field when their reserves filled in for their departed starters.

“We know exactly how we want to play,” Coyle said. “We certainly know the pieces we need and the important thing is when we put that in place we’ll have that continuity. It’s important as well to have the right pieces, but that’s important.”

Coyle wants a team that can pressure opponents with speed, be a consistent threat on goal and stay sturdy in the back. Admirable goals, but in order to get there, Coyle’s style will have to show through every week.

One player who the club will count on to help establish that style in 2016 is Giles Barnes, who was just signed to a non-Designated Player deal that will keep him in Houston for the near future. The Jamaican international blazed out of the gate in 2015 with six goals and an assist before May 17, but tailed off dramatically in the second half as international duty and nagging injuries sapped his season, adding just one more goal and two more assists over the rest of the campaign.

“The Giles Barnes we all want and we know we want back is the one that played the first half of the season up to Copa America,” Coyle said. “Giles Barnes was, for me, in the top three players in the league…. Was Giles Barnes the same player in the second half of the season? No he wasn’t. But Giles knows that. I know if we have a fresh Giles Barnes, that’s a match winner.”

While they know what they have in Barnes, other key names have surfaced as potentially being on the outs in Houston. The club shot down reports that they’re actively shopping Erick “Cubo” Torres, but sources have conifrmed to MLSsoccer.com that captain Brad Davis – a player that’s been synonymous with the club for the entirety of its time in Houston – has been the subject of trade talks with Sporting Kansas City in 2015.

Four other regulars are out of contract, with talks proceeding positively with Will Bruin, Tyler Deric and Sheanon Williams according to Canetti. Things don’t appear to be going as well with free agent Ricardo Clark, with Canetti describing those negotiations as “more challenging,” but making it clear that he’d like all four players back in 2016.

Figuring out the status of those players, as well as those of others like Boniek García, who disappointed in 2015, will be the trick this offseason as the Dynamo look to return to the playoffs next year.

“We’re definitely disappointed in some of the on field results and not making the playoffs this year,” Canetti said. “We know the expectation amongst the fans is to compete for championships and that’s the expectation we put on ourselves.”