The end is Dominic Kinnear

It would seem fitting that Dominic Kinnear’s tenure with the Houston Dynamo would end in a nail-biting 2-1 game. For a man who has lived and died on white knuckling out results with sometimes inferior sides, there could only be one way to close out his time at BBVA Compass Stadium.

But unlike the other 121 times where he was unable to pull out points, Revolution midfielder Lee Nguyen made sure that Kinnear and the Houston Dynamo supporters would not go home happy.

 

There almost seem to be a bit of an anti-climatic attitude in the air on Thursday night. To be fair, the Kinnear had announced that he would be leaving the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday to return home to coach the San Jose Earthquakes.

But for a league that loves to market last matches ever and has shown itself to recently to going all out on video packages it seemed rather odd that a man who has won two MLS Cups would go out with a whimper. At least he got a pretty cool cowboy hat.

In a league where the likes of Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley, Sigi Schmid, and any ex-MLS player coaching in a big market are exalted as geniuses, Dominic Kinnear has flown under the radar. Considering that he is an MLS original, a former U.S. Men’s National Team player, and as a coach has made 4 MLS Cups and won 131 matches (third-highest all-time) this seems preposterous.

Timing and location seem to have a lot to do with his obscurity. Kinnear started coaching during a dark time in Major League Soccer when the leagues long-term success was very much in doubt.

After being promoted from assistant coach in 2004, Kinnear helped turn around a struggling Earthquakes squad and leading them into first-place in the Western Conference.

But much like many teams during that time, San Jose struggled to find a home to play and get meaningful attendance numbers. After being unable to secure a soccer-specific stadium, the club’s owners Anschutz Entertainment Group, moved the team to Houston.

Dominic Kinnear himself was unsure if this was a place that he wanted to go to. In Wednesday’s teleconference he stated that:

It was a real struggle to come here in the first place. It was a really hard decision, but I wanted to coach and the only place I could coach was Houston and that’s why we came here.

He would go on to say:

To be honest with you, we thought it would be a two-year plan and we’d be out the door, and two years turned into nine. That, for me, is pretty incredible.

The move ended up paying off. Due to the imbalance of teams in the East and West, Houston was moved to the much easier Eastern Conference and was able to build a young squad in his mold. Players like Bolton midfielder Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark, Brad Davis, and Brian Ching, who scored 83 goals during his MLS career.

Despite their name, the Dynamo did not play an exactly dynamic style of football. Kinnear’s style often emphasized slow buildup through the midfield with patience and control being considered more important than getting five goals in a match. If they would gain the early advantage on a team they would be content passing the ball around for ninety minutes. It is not the most exciting brand of football but it was damn successful. No supporter wanted to face this team in the playoffs.

Defending was also an important part of Kinnear’s style. Between 2006 and 2013, the Dynamo on average allowed just 37 goals a season including their 2007 campaign where the club allowed an MLS record 23 goals.

Kinnear has helped players like centre-back Bobby Boswell, Corey Ashe, and goalkeeper Tally Hall turn into solid MLS players and dependable veterans. Defending wins titles in MLS and Kinnear rode his defenses to several strong playoff appearances.

 

2014 has been a bit different for Kinnear and the Dynamo. The club has allowed a team-high 56 goals this season and has racked by injuries to aging players. Although the Dynamo have been renowned for their late-season comebacks, they could not pull it off this season. The club was eliminated from playoff competition on Sunday against a D.C. United club that they had never lost to at home before in their history.

While teams often do need a change of coaches to freshen things up, one has to wonder if Kinnear’s style is still useful in today’s MLS. Although the league is still not really pulling out prodigious scoring talents, the days of strong, physical defenders running roughshot around the league are long gone.

While Ching was a quality forward for Kinnear for many years, they have never truly been able to replace him. Forward Giles Barnes, the former Derby and Doncaster Rovers players, had a quality season with 11 goals but Will Bruin has not really made that next step towards becoming an elite MLS forward.

The key for Kinnear to succeed in San Jose will be if he is given the funds necessary to succeed. In Houston he was tasked to build a squad with the fourth-lowest budget in the league. San Jose will be coming into their new stadium and have plenty of strong attacking options in Chris Wondolowski and Tommy Thompson, the 20 year old prodigy who scored his first professional goal this week.

It will not be an easy task for Kinnear, given that he will be going up against the likes of the Seattle Sounders, Los Angeles Galaxy, and Real Salt Lake on a weekly basis. But good coaches often are able to pull out results even when the deck is stacked against him and even when other teams might play a sexier brand of football.

Kinnear has proven for ten seasons in Houston that he can coach with the best. Perhaps on a bigger stage he can finally get the respect he deserves.

The Author

Sean Maslin

BPF Columnist, Washington Spirit/D.C. United beat writer and general editor-Prost Amerika, Columnist-Playing for 90. Radio MLS: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/radio-mls/id979377624?mt=2

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