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The PSP talks to Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear

Appointing a first-time manager is not an easy decision. A franchise must have incredible faith in the abilities and potential of the candidate, and they must be willing to ride the peaks and valleys as the new leader adjusts to his role.

The same year Peter Nowak took the reins in DC, another former MLS player donned the purple in San Jose. Dominic Kinnear spent three years as an assistant to Frank Yallop, but after the Earthquakes won the 2003 MLS Cup, Yallop left to coach the Canadian national team and Kinnear was in charge.

And so, six seasons after DC United took San Jose’s place atop the MLS Cup stage, Peter Nowak and Dom Kinnear are both trying to rebound after the unfamiliar feeling of missing the playoffs.

Kinnear accumulated 9 goals, over 50 caps and a lot of style on the US national team

Kinnear’s achievements stack up well against Nowak’s. Since 2004, he has overseen San Jose’s move to Houston while notching his belt with two MLS Cups and a Coach of the Year award. But success was never a given for the former US international. “Being a good player doesn’t mean you’ll be a good coach,” Kinnear cautions, “But the team can reflect the style you had as a player. Peter [Nowak] has had a lot of success as a coach and his team reflects how he played.”

Certainly the 2010 Philadelphia Union shone through with the Nowakian ideals of a limitless defensive work ethic paired with a creative offense. But defensive lapses and an inability to turn possession into opportunities relegated the expansion side to the outside of the playoff picture.

The Dynamo experienced similar difficulties in the back. A run of four months (mid-July to mid-October) without a clean sheet knocked them out of the race for the postseason. “We gave up too many avoidable goals last year, a lot of them late in games,” Kinnear told PSP while throwing darts at a photo of Danny Mwanga (kidding). “Mental errors cost us late, and we need to change that to improve the defense, more than anything else.”

Without knowing it, the Houston manager echoed the sentiments of many Union players after the 2010 season. While Philadelphia addressed its defensive issues by playing Yankee swap with the goalie corps, Houston added impressive depth to the back line in the forms of super-prospect Kofi Sarkodie, Jermaine Taylor and Hunter Freeman. The Dynamo also traded a 4th round draft pick for DC United’s Jordan Graye.

In other words, Houston did what many expected the Union to do. They kept the core of their 2010 defense intact but added depth to push the starters if they struggled. It’s a plan that makes so much sense, it will probably work.

Houston started by addressing its backstop situation by replacing retiring goalkeeping stalwart Pat Onstad with Tally Hall. Hall was drafted forty places behind Chris Seitz in the 2007 SuperDraft and, like Seitz last year, he has yet to establish himself as a regular number one.

“We saw Tally in some first team tournament games last year. Pat was so good for so many years but we think we’ll be fine with Tally,” Kinnear said.

When asked why young goalies like Hall and Seitz seem to develop later in their careers than field players, Kinnear pointed to the confidence that a consistent backstop gives a coach and a team.

“Once a goalie is established, they hold onto the job. Goalie is a position where the guy stays if he’s playing well, so young guys may not get chances early on [in their careers].”

And while Zac MacMath is likely to sit behind Faryd Mondragon, Kinnear wants Houston’s picks to make noise this season. “Fair expectations are that they play, they get starts and they get minutes. You ask them to play hard.”

One of the US national team’s most best midfielders developed under Kinnear’s watch. Now Stuart Holden is walking the walk with Bolton Wanderers in the English Premier League. Kinnear still keeps in touch with Holden and sees him as an example of the America’s emerging soccer identity.

“One thing I would say about American players—guys like Holden and Clint Dempsey—is that they have a great attitude,” Kinnear said.

If a positive attitude and hard work are the defining traits of the successful American player, the Union should not temper their expectations for studs like Amobi Okugo, Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney. Okugo and McInerney have been praised for their hard work by national team coaches and Mwanga only has to look at his strike partner for a good example.

Kinnear surely remembers Mwanga. The 2010 number one pick announced his arrival with an extra time goal against Houston to hand Philly it’s first away win in history. The Dynamo manager can repay the favor by putting his rookie striker on the pitch this Saturday. Will Bruin was a dominant force at Indiana, and he has been scoring at will in preseason. With Brian Ching nursing a recurring hamstring pull, Bruin should get the call against the Union.

And just in case you were thinking Ching’s injury might be cause for the Houston manager to send out a more defensive 4-5-1 formation, Kinnear can set your mind at ease.

“We don’t rethink our tactics home or away,” he said.

And the fact that the Philly matchup is now a conference showdown won’t change anything either. “We still play everybody twice. I don’t think it changes anything. We just need to play.”

Dominic Kinnear has had incredible success as a first team coach. Although Nowak won the Cup in his first season as a manager, Kinnear is clearly the measuring stick for franchise development. Having entered the head coaching ranks in the same year, the two former MLS greats find themselves in similar positions entering this season. Philly and Houston missed the playoffs last year but have postseason-level talent in 2011. They will both try to start the year with three points Saturday in Houston.

And while Kinnear won’t help the Union out by revealing his plans for the opening match, he will offer some advice to any Philly fans looking for the hip place to hang in Houston.

“A lot of the players live in the Midtown neighborhood and go out there, so I’d recommend it. I don’t go out much though. I live in the suburbs with three kids.”

To learn more about the Dynamo ahead of Saturday’s matchup, go to www.houstondynamo.com

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