It is still hard to believe that I was part of a sellout crowd above at BBVA Compass Stadium for the first leg of the MLS Western Conference Finals. Heading into the 2017 season, three straight years out of the playoffs, a last place 2016 conference record and boring play had created a combined sense of disgust and apathy among the fan base. Season ticket sales were down significantly and many games late in 2016 were played in basically empty stadiums. There was a belief that new signings brought in during the offseason would improve the results from the absolute bottom the team had hit during the 2016 season. Only the most delusional could have predicted the excitement the 2017 version of the Dynamo would generate and how deep into the playoffs they would reach though.
On many levels this Dynamo team set historical records. Most home wins (12-1-4) in club history (13-including playoffs). Most single season goals in team history (57). The first time the team produced three 10 goal scorers (Erick Torres, Alberth Elis and Mauro Manotas). An impressive seventh appearance in the Conference Finals in only 12 years of existence as a franchise.
Houston defeated Sporting Kansas City 1-0 in the playoff opening round on an Alberth Elis goal in added extra time. The most remarkable result of the playoffs and the overall season though came in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals when, after a drab scoreless draw at home in the first leg, the Dynamo overcame a deficit to stun the Portland Timbers 2-1.
Unfortunately the run came to an end when the Seattle Sounders comprehensively dismantled the Dynamo 5-0 on aggregate in the Western Conference Finals. Regardless of the difficult end to the season, full credit must be given to Matt Jordan, Wilmer Cabrera and Chris Canetti for the impressive turnaround.
If Dynamo fans are honest with themselves however, part of the reason the club was able to make such a rapid improvement was the general overall weakness of the Western Conference last year. A number of commentators are wondering if the Dynamo are going to tank next year like the Colorado Rapids did this season. The Rapids made a shock run to the 2016 Western Conference Finals, but would have been in last place this year if it had not been for the disastrous Los Angeles Galaxy season. Fortunately Dynamo management does not seem to have any illusions about the improvement needed in the roster. Promising steps have already been taken. As an example, the loan agreements Alberth Elis and Juan David Cabezas played under this year have been turned into full contracts since season end.
Building the rest of the 2018 version of the Houston Dynamo will be left for next year. For now, a successful 2017 season should be celebrated as a positive step for the future.
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