Oscar Boniek Garcia landed in Houston with a bang in the summer of 2012. While mid-season arrivals usually need an adjustment period in a new country, a new league and a new club, the Honduran winger started turning defenders inside out inside his first week. “It took him basically two practices to settle in,” said then Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear. Six months later, Boniek was named the team’s top player, MLS’ best newcomer, and he’d helped drag the Texans, league champions in 2006 and 2007, into a second straight MLS Cup Final.
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Boniek and co lost that Final to an LA Galaxy side sparkling with stars like Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and David Beckham. But with a remarkable first season under his belt, the wide player with pace, agility and penetration power had announced himself in a big way. “In Garcia you have a player that’s different,” said Bruce Arena, the former U.S. National Team coach and LA Galaxy boss in that 2012 trophy showdown. “He’s creative and dynamic with the ball at his feet. He’s a goal threat and a set-up threat.”
(Coach Wilmer Cabrera leans on Boniek Garcia as a Dynamo team leader)
Anyone with a betting bent would have been justified in letting some dough ride on him winning silverware in Houston in the future. But fast-forward six seasons, Boniek and Houston don’t have anything more to polish in the trophy cabinet. Their upcoming Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final date with Philadelphia Union is the club’s first appearance in a Final of any kind since coming up just short back then in 2012. It’s also safe to say that Boniek – a veteran now and staring down an inevitable end to his playing career – is desperate to go out making the same kind of impact he did coming in.
Must-Win for Dynamo
“When you go to a Cup Final, you have to win it,” Boniek, who knows better than some the pains of losing at the last hurdle, told ussoccer.com. “We need to win it so that we can feel the satisfaction that we’ve done something good this year. An Open Cup title would do that. We’re playing at home in front of our own fans and we have their support, so we need to do our best to make sure we get our hands on that trophy.”
Boniek was in his late 20s when he arrived at the club. Now he’s 34. Gone are the days of his electric pace and single-handed panic-causing runs down the flank. Now he plays fewer minutes and picks and chooses when and how to exploit the wide positions and take on his opponents. He’s joined in the current Dynamo side by a raft of fellow old-timers, all deep in their thirties, who act as mentors and guiders of young starlets like striker Mauro Manotas (23), Homegrown up-and-coming midfielder Memo Rodriguez (22) and Alberth Elis (22).
(In among the likes of Philippe Senderos and DaMarcus Beasley, Boniek Garcia brings much experience to Houston)
“It’s very important to a have a core of experienced players to show the young guys the drive they need to win. We have those players – guys like DaMarcus Beasley and Philippe Senderos,” said Boniek, who’s father gave him his unusual middle name in honor of one of his favorite players, Zbigniew Boniek of Poland and Juventus fame. “Thankfully we have guys like this and Adolfo Machado, Leonoardo and yes, myself too. We are experienced. We’ve won trophies and it’s our job to make sure the young ones know that this is their opportunity for a trophy too.”
Not in MLS, But Trophies Aplenty
While he’s yet to hoist silverware in MLS with the Dynamo, Boniek has more league titles from his days in Honduras than he knows what to do with. He picked up ten national titles with Honduran giants CD Olimpia, where he made his debut while still a teenager, and he knows what it takes to get the job done on the big day. Not to mention, he’s been to two World Cups (2010 and 2014) and has 125 caps for his national team in an international career spanning more than a decade. This is a man to watch in the Dynamo locker-room if you’re a youngster looking for the right way to do things.
“The best advice he gives is his example,” said Mauro Manotas, the 22-year-old Colombian thrust into a starting No. 9 role at the club following the departure of Erick El Cubo Torres at the start of the season. He’s eighth in the MLS scoring charts for 2018, tied with LAFC’s Carlos Vela on 13, one shy of finishing top-scorer in the 2018 Open Cup and he’s also the team’s all-time top-scorer in Open Cup history. Dynamo coach Wilmer Cabrera, who gave the veteran Honduran a contract extension last year, knows full-well Boniek’s worth from the other side of the touchline, “A team is guided by guys like this – guys who lead and who’ve been to Finals and won things.”
(Boniek Garcia won ten national titles in his native Honduras with Tegucigalpa giants Olimpia)
Boniek points to the team’s attacking flair as the main reason for the magnificent Open Cup run this year. They’ve scored 13 goals in four games, including four in a 4-2 Quarterfinal win against defending champs Sporting Kansas City that Cabrera singles out as the Dynamo’s turning-point in the Cup. “Our attack makes us dangerous,” Boniek said. “Between Mauro Manotas, Alberth Ellis, Romell Quioto, Ronaldo Pena and Memo Rodriguez and Arturo Alvarez we have very dangerous players and defenses have to respect that. We always have to take advantage of how powerful our attack is.”
An attacking crew to be sure, it’s also an international cast in the Dynamo locker-room. Boniek is one of three Hondurans in a team that boasts players from Colombia (2), EL Salvador, Venezuela, Sweden, Panama, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Switzerland and the United States. But for Boniek, the only flag that matters is Dynamo Orange. “All those cultural difference go out the window, they’re erased, when you throw a soccer ball into the mix,” said the player who followed the game, that same ball he talks about now, from the slums of Tegucigalpa and a childhood full of pitfalls. “The ball always brings the team together; it makes all the difference and we find ways to communicate with it.”
A Cup to Salvage a Season?
It’s no secret that things haven’t gone the Dynamo’s way in league play this year. They’re stuck in tenth in the MLS Western Conference standings and a full 13 points out of playoff contention with just five regular season games to go. Consistent results have been hard to come by and luck hasn’t been on their side. All the breaks they’ve gotten have come, however, in the Cup. The coin flips have been especially kind to them. The Final on Sept. 26th will be the side’s fifth home game of the competition – that’s every round since they started with a clash against amateurs NTX Rayados back in June.
(Boniek impressed in the Open Cup Semifinal against LAFC despite missing a penalty in the shootout)
Playing at home was a massive boost for Boniek, especially in the Semifinal against LAFC which produced six goals (3-3) before going to penalties. “I was able to celebrate with my family after the Semifinal, when I had missed my penalty,” he said, having fluffed a fifth kick which would have won the game, before being rescued by goalkeeper Joe Willis in the end. “When I missed I knew my family was suffering with me, so my first thought was to go to them before going celebrating with my teammates and fans.”
He’s reluctant to say so, but the 2018 Open Cup Final could well be Boniek’s last chance to lay his hands on a trophy. Wingers don’t go much past 35, which he’ll turn next September. And while his expiration date is open for debate, his desire to pick up a Cup before he’s gone is strong. “Maybe it will be the last chance or maybe it won’t,” he said, looking ahead to the big day and Houston’s first Open Cup Final. “You just have to enjoy the moment, no matter what your age, and make sure you do everything you can to win the Cup.”