After a Western Conference finals appearance in his debut season, Houston Dynamo coach Wilmer Cabrera now looks to get his team back to that stage and beyond in 2018.
The Dynamo surprised the Portland Timbers in the conference semifinals before the Sounders exposed their limitations in a 5-0 aggregate victory in the conference finals. Many of the pieces from that Dynamo team are back, but several familiar faces have moved on.
Will 2018 be a step forward, with the Dynamo competing for the MLS Cup like they did in their first several years in the city? Or will the team struggle to match the same quality it showed in 2017?
How did the Houston Dynamo perform in 2017?
2017 finish: Fourth in Western Conference (13-10-11), lost to Seattle Sounders in Western Conference finals
It was a good debut season for Dynamo coach Wilmer Cabrera, who guided his team back into the playoffs and then oversaw a surprise run to the conference finals where the Sounders overpowered Houston. BBVA Compass Stadium once again was the key to success with the Dynamo losing just once at home and winning just once on the road.
Houston's key offseason losses
The Dynamo sold Mexican forward Erick "Cubo" Torres, to Pumas in his home country, getting a fee for a player who previously had been a designated player. Homegrown player Christian Lucatero also moved to a Liga MX club, signing with Necaxa after the Dynamo declined the 20-year-old's contract option.
A pair of veterans left the club for other MLS sides with midfielder Ricardo Clark signing with Columbus Crew SC as a free agent and Jalil Anibaba moving to the New England Revolution. Perhaps the most significant loss for the Dynamo is that of Brazilian midfielder Alex, who signed with a club in South Korea after starting 29 matches in 2016 and 28 in 2017. Goalkeeper Tyler Deric will be a free agent should his suspension be lifted after a domestic violence arrest.
Houston's key offseason additions
Goalkeeper Chris Seitz headed down I-45 and joined the Dynamo from rival FC Dallas as a free agent with the club re-signing Joe Willis to make up the current goalkeeping corps.
A pair of Salvadorans with a load of MLS experience will be teaming up as well after Arturo Alvarez was acquired from the Chicago Fire for the Dynamo's second-round pick in the 2019 draft and Darwin Ceren was acquired from the San Jose Earthquakes in exchange for allocation money.
The Dynamo also signed Venezuelan defender Alejandro Fuenmayor and completed transfers for Alberth Elis and Juan David Cabezas, both of whom were with the team on loan last season.
Full Houston Dynamo roster entering 2018 season
Goalkeepers: Chris Seitz, Joe Willis
Defenders: Alejandro Fuenmayor, Adolfo Machado, Philippe Senderos, DaMarcus Beasley, Dylan Remick, Kevin Garcia, A.J. DeLaGarza, George Malki, Leonardo
Midfielders: Juan David Cabezas, Eric Alexander, Memo Rodriguez, Tomás Martínez, Charlie Ward, Arturo Alvarez, Darwin Ceren, Eric Bird, Boniek García
Forwards: Andrew Wenger, Romell Quioto, Alberth Elis, Mauro Manotas
Houston Dynamo projected starting lineup
Seitz and Willis will have a strong fight for the starting goalkeeper job. A.J. DeLaGarza won't be back from an ACL injury until the summer, paving the way for George Malki to win the starting spot after he missed 2017 with his own ACL injury. At 35 years old, DaMarcus Beasley will be keenly aware that Dylan Remick may take his starting spot, but we've learned not to bet against Beasley.
There are plenty of ways Cabrera can configure his midfield, and he used a fair few alignments last season. Andrew Wenger, Boniek Garcia and Arturo Alvarez all will get minutes but Honduran duo Elis and Quioto could be set for a big season. Martinez got his first MLS assist out of the way in the 2017 MLS playoffs and should be much more comfortable with half a season under his belt.
With Cubo Torres now in Mexico City, it's Mauro Manotas' job up top.
Houston Dynamo's national TV coverage
Houston Dynamo vs. Atlanta United - Saturday, March 3, at 3:30 p.m. ET on Univision
New York Red Bulls vs. Houston Dynamo - Saturday, April 7, at 3 p.m. ET on Univision
Chicago Fire vs. Houston Dynamo - Saturday, May 20, at 4 p.m. ET on Unimas
Houston Dynamo vs. New York City FC - Friday, May 25, at 9 p.m. ET on Unimas
Portland Timbers vs. Houston Dynamo - Saturday, July 28, at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
Houston Dynamo vs. FC Dallas - Thursday, August 23, at 9 p.m. ET on Unimas