Over the past two seasons the Houston Dynamo have become supremely skilled at a tactic that has become increasingly prevalent in American sports.
In 2011 and 2012, the Dynamo have played just well enough in the regular season to grab the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference before turning it on in the postseason and making an impressive run to the MLS Cup final.
In both years the Dynamo simply ran into a better Los Angeles Galaxy team, but they have a nice mix of youngsters and veterans and will have high expectations in 2013.
Forward Will Bruin is a budding superstar and will be counted on for the majority of the offensive production. The Missouri native was selected by Houston with the 11th pick in the 2011 SuperDraft and scored a modest five goals in 25 appearances his rookie season.
But he had a breakout campaign last term, scoring a team-leading 12 goals in 32 games for the Dynamo. Bruin also led the club in shots (78) and shots on goal (35), in 2012, so he will likely be the team's main offensive weapon this term.
Joining Bruin up top is Omar Cummings, who arrives in Houston via a trade from the Colorado Rapids. Cummings has been recognized as one of the league's most dangerous strikers for several years. Over six seasons for the Rapids, Cummings has scored 39 goals -- including a career-high 14 tallies during the club's run to the MLS Cup title in 2010.
The Jamaican international started 23 games last season, scoring six goals. He should partner nicely with Bruin to form of the league's most feared strike tandems.
"I have always liked Omar," Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear said. "He is a good player with good pace. He is someone who knows the league well. We were Omar is a player who can come in and help us stretch the field."
Veteran Brian Ching returns for his eighth season with Dynamo. Ching appeared in 30 of the team's 34 games last season, scoring five goals. With Bruin and Cummings likely getting starting nods, Ching will come off the bench, but his presence in the locker room and on the pitch will go miles toward the development of Bruin as a top player.
Five-time MLS All-Star Brad Davis is back in the fold to do what he does best, pile up the assists. Davis probably has the best left foot in the league and is a threat to score with every set piece he takes.
The U.S. international scored eight goals last season and added 12 assists. Davis has had four straight seasons of double-figure assist totals and will surely want to make it a fifth in 2013.
Another midfielder who will be seeking to build on a successful rookie campaign is Honduras international Boniek Garcia. Garcia played in 17 games for the Dynamo in 2012, scoring four goals and adding six assists. The versatile two-way midfielder took the Houston attack to a new level last time out and should provide the club the same offensive spark this season.
Also arriving in Texas this campaign is English midfielder Andrew Driver. Driver, 25, has made 168 appearances with Hearts of the Scottish Premier League, while scoring 19 goals. The Oldham native will provide more depth to an already formidable midfield.
"I am very excited about the opportunity to come and play for the Dynamo," Driver said. "I have followed MLS over the years and Houston has stood out as one of the top teams. I know a lot of success has been because of the work of Dominic Kinnear, so I am delighted to have the chance to learn from him and improve as a player under him."
Defensively, Houston is in good shape with mainstays Corey Ashe, Bobby Boswell and Jermaine Taylor along the backline. Ashe and Boswell combined to start 63 games last season, while Taylor was in the starting 11 27 times.
All three veteran defenders have played together for several years and should make life relatively easy for goalkeeper Tally Hall.
The Dynamo certainly have the pieces for a third consecutive run to the MLS Cup final, the only challenge left will be getting over the final hurdle and claiming the trophy.
2012 IN REVIEW: Houston had some spells of inconsistency in 2012, but played well enough to sneak into the playoffs, finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference with 53 points. In the postseason, the Dynamo dispatched Chicago Fire and top-seeded Sporting Kansas City before falling by a 3-1 count to Los Angeles in the MLS Cup final.
ACQUISITIONS: Eric Brunner (D), Omar Cummings (F), Jason Johnson (F), Bryan Salazar (F). Andrew Driver (M).
LOSSES: Colin Clark (M), Andre Hainault (D), Josue Soto (M), Je-Vaughn Watson (M).
OUTLOOK: Houston is a solid team up and down the lineup. They should make the playoffs as a fourth or fifth seed, but will need to be more consistent during the regular season so as to not make life too difficult once the postseason arrives. Cummings had some injury troubles last season, but if he returns to form, being paired with a rising superstar like Bruin should enable him to have a productive season in 2013.