In Houston, Texas, the heat is often the first thing that hits you, “That’s the problem even when it rains its still 80 degrees,” Owen Coyle tells Yahoo Sport UK.
At its peak topping 100 oF, the climate is worlds away from the grey skies of North West England, where the 49-year-old made his name as a manager with Burnley and Bolton Wanderers, “I’d turned down 4 or 5 jobs prior to coming to the Dynamo, because I’d had a bad experience [at Wigan],” Coyle admits. “From day one there just wasn’t that chemistry with the owner that I had become used to at my previous clubs. I wanted to make sure wherever I went next that I felt that sense of camaraderie. I met [Houston Dynamo President] Chris Canetti, and I felt instantly that he was a decent guy with big plans for the club.”
A new adventure for Coyle, it was not without growing pains. MLS has a unique set of rules and mechanics. When Coyle touched down in Houston, there was a list of terms to ingest, including: allocation money, trades, and draft picks.
“I brought my teams to the US for pre-season training, but it only gives you a little taste,” Coyle says. “You don’t really grasp the scope of it until you’re in there.”
Describing his first year in Houston as a, ‘steep learning curve,’ he admits what surprised him most is the traveling, “We are scheduled to fly 63,000 miles this year to play our away games,” he explains. “Back home, if I’m playing Chelsea, we’d usually take the train to London. If you do take a flight it’s 30 minutes. We went to Vancouver the other week, and it was a 5 hour flight. It’s every second week that you’re traveling. It can be hard on the players.”
Last season wasn’t just about change for Coyle though. The Dynamo saw an improvement in its own infrastructure; something overseen by Coyle, “When we came in last year, we didn’t have an analyst or a sports scientist,” he explains. “We’re now getting up to speed with those departments. We’ve brought in different pieces to build an infrastructure for the club and a support structure.”
Coyle’s influence does not end at the first team, however. Eager to build something in Houston, his eye is also cast towards the club’s future, “We go in once a month to train our academy players,” he says. “Now I don’t know many teams that do that. We do that so we’re sending the same message right through the club and we do it because we love the game.”
It is clear from hearing Coyle speak, that his passion for the game has not waned with age. Still an active member on the training field, it is not unheard of to see him participating in drills.
Consequently, it is unsurprising to learn how he spent his Christmas break, “Ive got to say I’m very fortunate to have had a career in the game,” he says. “If I hadn’t, I’d still be paying a fiver for a game of 5-a-side with you. The first three days I was back in England, [for Christmas] I was at three different games. I went up to watch Celtic play Ajax with my son on Thursday night. I was down to watch Hull against Derby on the Friday night, and then I was at Sheffield Wednesday against Blackburn Rovers on the Saturday.”
What, on the surface, may seem like just casual jaunts actually serve a dual purpose for Coyle, “Even though I love the game, I’m also using those games to look at players and potential signings,” he reveals. “I almost managed to sign a player from the Championship, but unfortunately it never came to fruition.”
Such focus and dedication is essential when working in MLS. Houston’s budget is far from huge, and when a need in the squad surfaces, the wheeler-dealer in Coyle comes out, “We’ve looked to get in some young players, and some exciting players,” he says. “I thought we were very astute in looking at the league last year and identifying who we need. I think my teams have always played exciting, attack minded, football. Of course I want to win first, but I also want to entertain.”
One of those attack-minded off-season trades was Andrew Wenger. Arriving after a difficult few seasons with the Philadelphia Union, he has since found success in Houston, “I’ve watched him for a number of years and I think Andrew Wenger just needed to play one position,” Coyle explains. “I think the tendency is to try him in different positions because of his versatility. When I met him, I told him I wanted him to play one position, and learn that position. I told him that would be the only position I would play him in.”
Now reaping the rewards of Wenger’s good form, Coyle is hoping that a similar show of faith can benefit the club’s academy, “I’ve never been afraid to play young players if they’re good enough,” he explains. “At Bolton I had Jack Wilshere, and young Daniel [Sturridge]. If you’re able to have your own homegrown players come through the club it gives a tremendous pride to everyone involved. We have the hybrid model with Rio Grand Valley FC as our affiliate. We have some of our young players there, and we hope that’s an avenue for some of our players.”
Part of a longer term vision for the club, Coyle speaks of his plans with an enthusiasm that is hard not to admire. The opportunity to lay down a mark is what enticed the 49-year-old to Houston, and although the weather may still be sweat inducing for a man born in Paisley, Scotland, it seems he is slowly beginning to acclimatize to life in Major League Soccer.
Follow Kristan Heneage on Twitter: @KHeneage