There aren’t any household names in the Houston Dynamo locker-room. Run your finger down the squad list and no big names jump out - no David Beckhams or Thierry Henrys, no Robbie Keanes, not even a Landon Donovan.
“We don’t have big names,” Brad Davis, a veteran midfielder who epitomises Houston’s physically robust, blue-collar style, told FIFA.com. “We play hardcore. We may not have stars, but our record speaks for itself. Just have a look…”
It does too. Since Dynamo’s founding in 2006, the club won back-to-back titles in their first two seasons, finished runners-up to LA Galaxy last year and only once, in 2010, did they fail to reach the post-season play-offs. Far from the most glamorous team in Major League Soccer, the Texas-based Dynamo are one of its most successful, and consistent.
“We don’t play the prettiest soccer in the world,” Davis, voted the club’s top player for the last three seasons, said with a smile edging into his voice. “But we make it damn hard for you to beat us.”
More than just a free-kick
Just as Houston are sometimes denounced as too rough and tumble, a little on the direct and agricultural side, Davis himself is often dismissed as a mere set-piece specialist. Dynamo fans, and their long-serving coach Dominic Kinnear, have other ideas.
“People take him [Davis] for granted. He's one of the most naturally talented players I've ever been around on a daily basis,” the Glasgow-born coach and former USA international said of his stalwart on the wing.
In turn, Davis points to a system, and a continuity, in the team that leads to consistent success. “The team changes over the years, the players, but the Dynamo mentality, the character and the attitude, never change. This is why we’re a success. This is why we’ve only missed the play-offs once – it’s no accident.”
We play hardcore. We may not have stars, but our record speaks for itself.
Davis’ pinpoint service from the left side of midfield saw him finish runner-up for MLS’ top-player award last season. He leads the Dynamo in starts, games played and assists. But for all this productivity on the pitch, he remains an under-appreciated entity in MLS.
“It’s not up to me to say what kind of player I am, how I should be considered. I want to be remembered as a player who did his all to help his team-mates win,” said the 31-year-old, approaching the autumn of a career spanning 11 MLS seasons.
The gritty Davis grew up in the heart of the American Midwest, in the soccer hotbed of St. Louis, Missouri. “As kids, we all played soccer,” he said, fond memories of what he calls his “soccer city” flooding back.
St. Louis holds a particular place in the pantheon of American soccer, sending five of its sons to the 1950 FIFA World Cup™, where USA famously beat England. “I had some great coaches there when I was young, guys who really cared,” added Davis, always humble, ever eager to pass on praise.
No looking past DC
The midfielder’s own national team record isn’t particularly memorable, making only five appearances for the Stars and Stripes. But he took his chances when they came. It was his spot-kick that won USA the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2005 in a shoot-out against Panama.
Davis and his Houston side, including occasional USA international journeymen Brian Ching and Ricardo Clark and fellow St. Louis native and team top marksman Will Bruin, are just one game away from their second straight MLS Cup (the one-off match which decides MLS’ champion each year).
I want to get to MLS Cup because it’s what we work for all season, because that’s what we fight for.
They lead DC United 3-1 after winning the first leg of their Eastern Conference semi-final. “We’re confident at the moment,” said Davis, second-top scorer for the Dynamo this term, chipping in with eight goals. “But we need to be careful because United are going to throw everything they have at us [on Sunday] in the second leg in DC, and we know that.”
“We’ll fight to get the job done. We have no one to blame but ourselves if we’re not ready for it,” Davis added, pointing to a similar situation in the previous series when, after amassing an impressive first-leg lead at home over fancied Sporting Kansas City, Dynamo had to battle it out to pull off a slim one-goal result.
You can hear a desperation in Davis’ voice when talk turns to the MLS Cup. Is it because a torn muscle kept him from playing in last year’s heart-breaking loss to star-studded LA Galaxy, a team, in many ways, the diametric opposite of his beloved Dynamo?
“No,” Davis says. “It was awful to miss out last year and watch my mates and not be able to help. But I want to get to MLS Cup because it’s what we work for all season, because that’s what we fight for.”