HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 03: Brian Ching #25 of the Houston Dynamo claps to the fans as he leaves the pitch of Robertson Stadium for a final time. The Dynamo played against the Philadelphia Union in the second leg of the playoffs on November 3, 2011 at Robertson Stadium in Houston, Texas. The Dynamo won 1 to 0 and will play the Sporting K.C. Sunday, November 6, 2011. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
Kermit the Frog didn't give us the entire truth. While it might not be easy being green it seems even a touch more difficult being Forever Orange. Houston might be one of the more unlovable clubs in the league stretching back to 2006 with their origins birthed to the detriment of the city of San Jose and its an original MLS franchise. Sore feelings still remain throughout the league, with general derision directed toward the boys from Space City. With the reborn Quakes sporting kits with a preference toward black shirts, they could be seen as being in a perpetual state of mourning since, a tangible reminder to all MLS fans as to how Houston earned their place in the league and what constitutes the ugly turn of the word "franchise."
Sources for heaping scorn upon Houston have also emanated from within, what with the club first seeking to be re-branded as Houston 1836 upon trekking east now six years ago, immediately presenting the opportunity for Anschutz Entertainment Group to alienate a sizable contingent of their new supporter base. A more contemporary moniker and two MLS Cups later, Dynamo have ensured the rest of the league's fans can still find no cause to embrace them, even when this past season's MLS Cup against Los Angeles presented MLS with that time-honored tradition of rooting for David against David Beckham's Goliath in an American sports final.
Even then, the red-headed stepchild of AEG's soccer operations lost out to the importance of seeing a club with Designated Players win something (especially one that was Robbie's Keane's boyhood club), and now with the off-season snafu of Impact de Montréal calling Brian Ching's bluff in the Expansion Draft, Dynamo have provided the rest of the league with another hearty guffaw at their missteps. The Ching matter, as well as some other issues Houston must consider entering 2012, illustrate just how tough it is being orange.
The first domino to tip over will be on what is to be done about the life of Brian at Dynamo. Thus far, nothing beyond innuendo and rumoring has transpired, but whichever way Chris Canetti and Houston's front office go, the choice will likely sting. Montréal will assuredly be demanding a blood sacrifice in order to pump up fan interest north of the border for their inaugural MLS season, and some speculation has focused on defender Andre Hainault going back to his hometown in exchange for Ching. This simply should not happen. Hainault was stunningly brilliant this past season and given his age he can continue to be so with Dynamo for several years to come. Dominic Kinnear looks set to enter 2012 with a relatively settled defensive back four now that the Bobby Boswell/Geoff Cameron CB pairing is in place and probably Corey Ashe and Hainault as the FBs, so working a deal with Houston's new Eastern Conference foe that includes taking away an integral component of this would be difficult to correct with little time heading into the 2012 campaign.
Will Houston then choose to call a double bluff on Jesse Marsch and L'Impact and decide it's time to move into a post-Ching era? If so, does the club run the risk of drawing ire from supporters anxious to see their orange-clad talisman open up their new stadium in May? Or, will Houston's front office break into cold sweats about experienced goal production when thinking about the 2012 Dynamo squad and opt to bring him back for inflated Canadian dollars? It's not easy...
Perhaps, though, the existence of the stadium itself provides a simpler answer to this conundrum and shows us which way this integral domino will fall. With the naming rights having gone to BBVA Compass for $20 million over 10 years, there is a little extra cash swimming about for Dynamo to finally get one of those fancy designated players that the favored soccer son of AEG gets lavished. Granted, there is still the matter of fitting the playing squad's wages within the MLS salary cap structure, which Canetti admitted is rather tight for the club going forward, but the sponsorship money coupled with the cap only taking a $400,000 hit via the DP rule allows Houston the flexibility to actively search for a replacement at the forward position. If a proven goal scorer could be found on the market that fits the DP mold, the cap hit would be roughly the same as Ching's 2011 salary and one would surmise the player would be an upgrade over a striker whose annual goal tallies have dwindled since 2008 as age and injuries have taken their toll.
Possibly then, the stadium that Ching helped make a reality in Houston could be the tool used to call time on his Dynamo career.
Oh, but wait a minute. Stuck between the teeth of the news regarding the stadium sponsorship was word that AEG are looking to sell their 50% stake in the club. After years of owning portions of both the LA and Houston teams now it becomes a conflict of interest, so the approaching season will likely see as much made of what Dynamo does in the executive suite as they do on the field. While seeking a local investor to sell off their controlling interest in the club might sound welcoming to some supporters, this suggests that the likelihood of AEG dedicating much more financially beyond general operational expenditures in the coming year will be negligible, thus probably restricting what benefit the additional revenues from a new stadium and sponsorship should bring. Within the realm of probability rests the chance for gate receipts--theoretically improved at the new stadium--along with the sponsorship money from BBVA Compass to fill in financially while AEG divests itself of long-range financial commitments to the club.
At a rather critical time in the club's history, when they might finally seek to expand their horizons by dipping into the DP market for a signature player to headline when Houston opens the "Beevah" and during a moment when the league looks to be consolidating its spheres of influence along both coasts and the Pacific Northwest, Dynamo might be in danger of becoming an afterthought. Rather than being able to stamp their authority on the league and command some modicum of acceptance rather than being considered carpetbaggers, Houston could run the risk of having a fate similar to the one that has befallen FC Frisco until a new ownership group emerges to replace a disinterested AEG. Granted, this might be an extreme view on the matter, but it does highlight how even when Dynamo receives good news it seemingly is always tempered with a bit of bad.
But, to paraphrase that felted amphibian Kermit, being orange can be cool, and friendly-like. Being orange can be big like a mountain, or important like a river or tall like a tree. It certainly is not easy being orange, but it can never be said it's boring. With the turn of a new year brings a new set of challenges, and many of you wouldn't want it any other way.