By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (May 10, 2012) US Soccer Players — Another milestone in the history of Major League Soccer will take place Saturday afternoon when BBVA Compass Stadium opens in Houston. The inaugural match will pit the Dynamo against DC United before an expected sellout crowd of 22,000 and a national TV audience that will be tuning in on NBC Sports Network. The venue marks the League’s 11th soccer-specific venue. As with previous stadiums that have sprouted up across the country over the past 13 years, Houston now has the chance to solidify itself in the community while giving the team a reliable revenue stream.
MLS teams building their own facilities and abandoning ones where they were tenants is nothing new. In the case of the Dynamo, the new stadium creates more buzz for the League (that’s always good) and gives the local fans a place that's built for soccer. The facility has already received rave reviews from Dynamo players, who practiced there for the first time this week before flying out to New York, where they lost 1-0 to the Red Bulls on Wednesday night in its seventh straight road game of the season.
“It’s a wonderful stadium,” defender Bobby Boswell said of the team’s new home. “It will be great for us to play in and a great place for the fans to visit.”
Like Sporting Kansas City did last year before its new stadium opened, the Dynamo front-loaded the season with road games pending BBVA Stadium’s completion rather than use its old facility Robertson Stadium, which it had used under a leasing agreement with the University of Houston. The Dynamo – with a 2-3-2 record – will be rewarded for their two-month road swing by playing 11 of their next 16 matches at home.
The Dynamo hope to emulate Sporting Kansas City, who spent the first 10 games of the 2011 campaign to allow for the completion of Livestrong Sporting Park. Well, at least in part. Kansas City went on to win the Eastern Conference with a 13-9-12 record (going 9-2-6 in its new home), but they exited the playoffs at the semifinal stage. The team that beat them was Houston, with expectations high for the Dynamo in 2012.
The 22,000-capacity BBVA Compass Stadium, with 7,000 field-level seats, is located in downtown Houston and cost $95 million to build. Along with the Dynamo, the stadium will host concerts and other sporting events such as college football and rugby. The stadium also recalls the Dynamo’s rich history with the use of 16 pillars to honor past players, including Dwayne De Rosario, Stuart Holden and Pat Onstad.
Chris Canetti, president of business operations for the Dynamo, called the venue “an absolutely, spectacular place.”
“The term that has been used by us, and by others, to describe it is that it is a game-changer for us and our organization in terms of what it means for our business and, more importantly, brand and relevance in the community,” he said.
Dynamo players first toured the semi-completed facility in February, increasing the anticipation for playing for points in their own building.
“The stadium should give our team a lift over time,” said striker Brian Ching. “It’s a great opportunity for our fans to carry on traditions and create new ones. The stadium will be louder and more intimate – hopefully leading to a big advantage on the field.”
The construction of a soccer-specific stadium dates back to the days when the franchise was in San Jose. Unable to secure funds to build its own facility at the time, the franchise moved to Houston in 2005 and became the Dynamo in time for the 2006 season. The team would go on to win back-to-back MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007, both times against the New England Revolution, and solidified itself as one of the League’s marquee franchises.
“I am really excited about the new stadium in Houston because it will be the first time we can actually call a place home,” said Ching, who played for the team in San Jose. Ching said the venue “really solidifies us as one of the major sports teams” in Houston. “There is not a bad seat in the house and it pays tribute to players who have laid the foundation for the Dynamo organization and reputation,” he added.
Now that the Dynamo has its state-of-the-art stadium, another championship season may not be far behind. For one of Major League Soccer's dynasties, settling into a new home by lifting the MLS Cup is a return to form.
More from Clemente Lisi: