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Houston Dynamo coach, GM perfectly aligned for club’s future

Houston Dynamo coach Wilmer Cabrera agreed to a contract extension with the club. (Thomas B. Shea/USA Today Sports)

When Wilmer Cabrera traveled home to Colombia to visit family during the summer of 2015, he thought he was taking a break from soccer for a while.

Matt Jordan had other plans.

The Dynamo’s vice president and general manager was searching for the first coach of the organization’s new United Soccer League affiliate Rio Grande Valley FC. Cabrera was at the top of Jordan’s list. He was not going to let him say no.

Jordan reached out to Cabrera regularly for more than three months. Jordan described his effort as persistent. A smiling Cabrera, this week, described it as intense.

“We were talking almost every day,” said Cabrera, who ultimately accepted Jordan’s job offer and coached RGV FC during its inaugural season in 2016. “I was doing some family things and he was calling me constantly. I appreciate that he was intense and chasing me because that showed me he was interested.

“He gave me comfort in knowing that he likes the way I work. That is very encouraging because at the end what you want is whoever brings you it is because they want you and that they know you will do a good job.”

Less than three years later, Cabrera has ascended to head coach of the Dynamo. Last week, he and Jordan received simultaneous contract extensions that locked them up through the 2020 season.

Jordan’s original three-year contract expired in December. Cabrera signed a two-year contract before taking over as Dynamo boss in 2017. Club president Chris Canetti said the organization did not want Cabrera to coach this season in the final year of his contract.

Canetti cited the pair’s strong working relationship and the teams’ on-field success as major reasons for their extensions.

In his only season as coach of RGV FC, Cabrera led the Toros to a second-place finish in the USL’s Western Conference.

In his first season with the MLS team, Cabrera led the Dynamo to their first playoff appearance in four seasons and a berth in the Western Conference finals.

“Alignment is a big thing in sports when you’re trying to measure how certain levels of an organization work together,” Canetti said. “They are completely aligned. They share the same vision, the same outlook and the same goals. They work cohesively together toward the achievement of those goals. It is a positive and productive environment – one we believe can lead to positive results.”

The seed for the recent positive Dynamo results was planted at the 2013 NCAA Men’s College Cup in Chester, Pa., where Jordan and Cabrera met for the first time.

Jordan was there to scout players for the Montreal Impact and Cabrera for the Colorado Rapids. They got to know one other that weekend and stayed in touch for the next two years.

When it came time to hire a coach for RGV FC, Jordan knew exactly who he wanted. He even told Canetti that if things didn’t work out with former Dynamo coach Owen Coyle, that Cabrera would be a good choice to lead the Dynamo.

The Dynamo never have been a big-spending club so developing young players is important to the organization’s success. Jordan said that was a pivotal reason he set his sights on Cabrera.

“What I really like and respect about Wilmer is he has a passion for teaching the game,” Jordan said. “He has a passion for helping guys improve and working with young players. That is important to the strategic plan. That is lost in the coaching ranks a lot. There are a lot of coaches who want players that are always turnkey ready. We’ve seen Wilmer’s passion for teaching here with RGV and with the first team.”

Cabrera and Jordan seem to have passed every test so far, but the one they face currently may be the most important.

After setting the league on fire in 2017 thanks to their incredible home form, the Dynamo have lost two of their first three at BBVA Compass Stadium in 2018. They are one dropped point away from matching their total from season with 14 games to go.

The problems this year include finishing, individual mistakes and finding a consistent attacking threat other than Alberth Elis.

The first two problems fall directly on the players and coaching. The third could fall on Jordan as he tries to identify and sign another attacking player who can finish on a regular basis.

Despite the slow start to 2018, the Dynamo are not panicking. They believe the plan they have developed with Jordan and Cabrera will be good enough to get them through tough stretches during a long season.

By signing them to contract extensions, the Dynamo bet on Jordan and Cabrera as the right duo to return the organization to its glory days. To do that, they must find a way to guide the club out of its early funk.

“That is what is important about being on the same page and working well together,” Jordan said. “This is professional sports. There are going to be good days. There are going to be bad days. It is about staying consistent through the ups and downs.”

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