The Houston Dynamo have been something of an enigma for almost a decade. Dynamo head coach Paulo Nagamura's arrival was met with some skepticism so the question is; Has he delivered change? The answer is kind of, sort of, maybe. How about still a work in progress?
The culture and identity of the Houston Dynamo was once known as the "Dynamo Way." The culture and identity was about winning but it was also about community and family. Not only did the organization have good players from 2006-2011 but they had players who played well together. They also represented in the community together. Players like Brian Ching, Brad Davis, DeWayne Rosario, Pat Onstad and Rico Clark were household names. Dominic Kinnear, the head coach during this span, had control of the team. His players respected him and enjoyed being around him. So what happened?
The team began getting old and the organization decided to go in an entirely different direction especially with the signing of Matt Jordan as the general manager in 2015. During his tenure, the franchise lost direction and the fans lost touch with the team. They tried to get the fanbase excited by bringing in younger, faster players. Poor decisions about the coaching staff, visionless leadership and player moves that did everything but help keep Houston on the map provided the quickening decline.
Fast forward to the end of the 2021 season, new ownership, new leadership and new direction in position. Onstad takes over as general manager and his first big move was the hiring of Nagamura on January 3, 2022. Majority owner ted Segal shared this thought about the club's expectations.
"He is a talented, high-potential coach who we believe will relate well to our players and help instill the type of culture we are working to create," said Segal simply and succinctly.
Now just barely eight months into the job, it's time to remind fans that the Houston Dynamo did not get into this mess overnight and they won't get out of it in a matter of months.
Nagamura started with most of the players on former coach Tab Ramos' roster so had the team turned around positively in a quick manner, he would not get the credit. Instead the team has been as rollercoaster as they were last season however there have been flashes of the future.
"An identity and a culture is established from one day to the other and it's a long process. I can say right now that the culture and the identity is there, but a lot of times you don’t change the character and the personality of players that we have on the squad. They can fit. They cannot fit. So, it’s going to be a process," explained Nagamura.
First, Nagamura is not afraid to play the young guys. Yes, Sebastian Ferreria is an easy call to start up top considering he was the most hyped and lucrative signee until the summer of 2022. He went to Thor Uhlfarrson and let the 2022 draft pick play and for the most part, he has done well. On the defensive side, he has not been afraid to install guys like Sam Junqua and Ethan Bartlow when needed.
Second, he has been fairly consistent with finding the right amount of minutes for Darwin Quintero and getting the veteran's passing prowess into the attacking third. Although, it doesn't necessarily show up under the gaudy stats like goal scoring and assists, he has distributed the ball at the right moment to the right spot more often then not. The problem has really been finding consistent finishing.
Third, he recognizes what he has and although he wants to win now Nagamura knows he doesn't have all the right pieces playing together enough to develop that chemistry like the Austin Club just down the road. A core group according to Nagamura is not quite there yet even with the addition of Hector Herrera. That addition will pay off next season as playing time comes chemistry develops with the same players being on the pitch game in and game out.
"You want to change a culture and an identity, but you add pieces that is going to be the core group of that identity and that culture. So, we are doing what we can right now and I think we have established the culture and the identity is there and we just have to build from that. We just have to build from that. We are going through a tough time right now and it’s easy to point fingers and I’m the first one to talk responsibility with what is going on and we just have to keep building from what we have right now that’s the key for me.”
Houston is on the right path. They have vison, leadership and direction. Now all they need is time.