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The Dynamo Decade: An Oral History of Houston's Dynasty, Part I

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The first in a multi-part series, "The Dynamo Decade" traces the history of the club throughout their ten years of existence as told by those who lived it. In this part, hear about the move from a decorated San Jose team to an unproven Houston market and the memorable first-game that kicked off ten years of success.

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On December 15, 2005, Major League Soccer and AEG (Anschutz Entertainment Group) announced that the San Jose Earthquakes would be moving to Houston for the 2006 season. The club was unable to find a permanent stadium solution in California and Oliver Luck, at the time a member of the Houston Sports Authority, led the charge to lure the franchise to Texas.

That would ultimately mean moving a highly successful team coming off a 2005 Supporters' Shield victory (and two previous MLS Cups), leaving their accomplishments behind, and starting fresh in an unproven and uncertain market. That team, the Houston Dynamo, would go on to record its own achievements and results that rivaled any other expansion team in MLS history.

Ten years later, the Dynamo are equipped with their own stadium, training facilities, multiple MLS Cup Final appearances, and a long, exciting tale to tell. As the historic tenth season gets underway,this is the oral history of the Houston Dynamo franchise, from it's checkered past in San Jose to the new "3.0 era" it currently embarks on. This is a story told by many of those who experienced it and still live it today.

Eddie Robinson, Defender (2006-2011): "When I got drafted [in 2001], the roster size was 18. I remember going into San Jose and that's when [head coach Frank Yallop] and Dom did a complete re-tool of the team. We went through preseason and about halfway through, I start showing up in the locker room in the morning and I see guys cleaning out their locker. Guys that I think are better players than me, that I think have more experience than me... Slowly but surely, the season approached and they gave me a contract for $24,000. Which, in San Jose, California, was really a joke but screw that. I'm not going to turn that down. Are you kidding me?"

Pat Onstad, Goalkeeper (2006-2010): "Frankie [Yallop] and I had a history. We played together with the national team for years and we actually roomed together... I was pretty lucky because in '03 when they were trying to bring me to San Jose, [A-League team Rochester Rhinos] had nixed the deal and wanted a significant transfer fee. And it didn't look like it was going to happen and, of all things, the goalkeeper got hurt in San Jose and that changed everything. They paid the transfer fee and then off I went."

Ricardo Clark, Midfielder (2006-2009, 2012-current): "For starters, [2005] was my first year in San Jose. I had just gotten traded to there from New York. It was new beginnings for me, moving from East to the West coast and just being a part of a new team. It was a lot of excitement that year for me."

"That's the best team I've ever played for and I would put that team up against any in the history of Major League Soccer." - Eddie Robinson

Wade Barrett, Defender (2006-2009): "[2005] was one of the most rewarding seasons that I had in MLS... The team that was assembled that year was just very good from the first roster spot all the way through the last. It was very typical of the kind of teams that Dom put together that were very hard-working. They work for each other and it was a good team that got on a really good run and got into the habit of winning."

Brian Ching, Forward (2006-2013): "Seeing what that team accomplished and being a part of it was pretty special. We had a good group of guys. I think we just worked hard as a team. Defensively, we made it difficult for other teams to play."

Clark: "I think [the 2005 Earthquakes] was probably one of the best group of guys that I'd played with in a long time. I think we had a really good understanding of each other on the field and there was a lot of chemistry that year from the coaching staff all the way down to the players... We clicked on the field. It was really something special. A special team to be a part of."

Robinson: "It was a team that, yes, our owner owns LA Galaxy. They have this really nice place down in LA and we have this double-wide. We literally had two double-wide trailers backed up against each other that had eight showerheads - two of them weren't hot. We just felt like we were the red-headed step-children and we played with a chip on our shoulder."

Rumors

Ching: "When I got to the team in 2003, the guys had been talking about moving even before I got there. The three years that I was there, you kinda always heard a rumor here and there about the team moving. At that point, I think the rumor kind of loses its luster."

Barrett: "Dom did a great job of just keeping [move rumors] completely separate. It wasn't anything we thought about. That was something Dominic instilled in us was not thinking about anything except that particular day. We thought about that day in training, then we thought about the next day, then we focused on the game on the weekend and we didn't really look too far ahead."

Onstad: "I think San Antonio seemed to be the frontrunner if I remember correctly and then I believe there was an election there that changed everything... Then in the '05 season, there was rumblings but not until about midway through and, at that stage, you a had a terrible start to the season... and we were just focused on what we were doing."

Clark: "I remember there was a lot of debate. We knew it was potentially going to happen. One week you'd hear the move was gonna happen then you hear it wasn't going to happen."

Oliver Luck, President (2006-2010): "[As a member of Houston Sports Authority], we were discussing stadium issues, rodeo, football. Soccer came up. There was no MLS team but it came up in the context of, 'Should we be developing venues for soccer? Can soccer play in a football stadium?' Soccer came up but it wasn't a driving force... [Houston Texans owner] Bob McNair had expressed a real strong interest in a potential franchise out at what was called Reliant Park. Actually, if I remember correctly, in some of the original documents, McNair had an option to buy an MLS team to play out at Reliant Park.

We put a little group together that started to talk to the league, to look at a couple of the franchises in the league that were struggling... I think Kansas City was having a difficult time, Columbus were struggling a little bit, San Jose was obviously struggling.

Eventually, it sort of pointed towards San Jose and I remember going out there and visiting with Alexi Lalas, the president and GM of the club up there. They were really struggling with their relationship with San Jose State University and Spartan Stadium."

I remember saying to Don Garber, 'San Jose is a great marketplace, a phenomenal town, a really cool place in the Bay Area but Don, you're never going to get them a building. You know that. Everybody knows that.' - Oliver Luck

Onstad: "We had a pretty good idea when the season ended but then it kind of went quiet. I remember after the season and going with my family to Hawaii and having a vacation. When I came back, I think it was actually the day I arrived back at the house, there was a voicemail and I called Dominic Kinnear and the next day we went down to the office."

Robinson: "We had a meeting. I think we had a meeting in our double-wide or double-double-wide. The quad-wide."

Ching: "I remember we got a call in the middle of December that year saying that the team was moving... which was, I would say, kind of a shock to all of us because you hear all these rumors for so long, you don't put any stock into it. Then, all of a sudden, you're up and moving."

Clark: "I was kinda excited for the move just to be somewhere different. Obviously, it was a little bit stressful especially with guys with families at the time. That was an obstacle we had to overcome."

Robinson: "I wasn't upset. At that point in my career, I had gotten to the point where I was old enough and wise enough to have a little bit of perspective... to know that, 'Okay, that's fine we're moving but I'm still going to get to do what I love doing. I'm still going to get to play soccer for a living. Who am I to complain about where it's done?"

Barrett: "For us, it was an exciting time. Also a little bit of an uncertain time. There was just a little bit of uncertainty about how that was going to go and what it was going to be like when we made the move. You didn't have a whole lot of time to be nervous about it. You had to get very focused very quickly on just the logistics of how you were going to move your family."

Transition

Onstad: "Myself, Wade Barrett, and Dominic hopped on a plane and flew to Houston for a press conference [the next day]. It was pretty surreal, too. I've never been on a private jet like that but Mr. Anschutz flew us all out on a private jet, which was pretty impressive, and then we were introduced to what was a pretty fantastic group of people as we certainly found out later in Houston. It was a pretty nice welcoming and certainly a sign of things to come."

Luck: "The announcement was made. I was the first employee of the Dynamo. We had a game to play in two and a half, three months, which is absurd when you think about it. We had no name, no colors, working on a stadium lease so the players can practice, they haven't found a place to live, haven't sold one ticket, didn't have a sponsor. You had to do all that stuff in a very short time period."

Ching: "I had to be in LA the beginning of January [for USMNT camp]... I had one day to look around while I was [in Houston] and then found a place in the Galleria that day. Turned around and ended up buying it. I saw the place, put an offer in, and ended up buying a house in a day and not knowing much about the city of Houston at all."

Barrett: "The one thing that was a little different in this move typical from other MLS moves - because everybody in the league understands that you might have to move during your career - but there was no support structure in place in Houston. It wasn't as if there was a full team there that had been there for awhile and you were just one person moving into that new environment."

Robinson: "When we left San Jose and we were told by Major League Soccer that 'all of your accomplishments - the two MLS Cups, the Supporters Shield, the Conference Championships - you don't get to take those with you. They're going to stay here.' I was offended. I'm still offended to this day. Completely and utterly disgusted that there was eventually going to come another group of guys that got to wear those stars, who got to have a history they didn't earn... It really pissed me off. It really upset me. There wasn't a lot of respect."

Onstad: "Fortunate thing for us is that Mr. Anschutz did a great job of looking after the guys out there. He wasn't obligated to do that in the CBA we had at the time. He stuck his neck out for the guys. He knew he was putting the guys in a bad spot that no one had before."

Robinson: "At the time, I think that Major League Soccer only was responsible for about $5,000 in relocation fees. AEG took every single cent of it. Players that had homes and guys that had 10, 15, 20,000 dollars in relocation fees - AEG paid every single cent and I put that on Phil Anschutz... I have more respect for him than pretty much anyone that I've come in contact with that had anything to do with Major League Soccer."

Barrett: "The one thing that it did was it brought our group of players and the families closer together. Just the shared experience of going through that together... I think really helped the team in our first year. It brought us all together a little bit, probably a little bit closer than what we had been."

Unveiling

Chris Canetti, President (2010-current): "For the Dynamo or any MLS team, I think you want a year and a half, two years of runway to build up to your grand opening."

Luck: "[Houston 1836] was one of maybe four or five names that we looked at and MLS looked at. We didn't really have time to focus group... Once we announced that name, it became pretty clear pretty quickly it wasn't acceptable within the Mexican-American community... We quickly realized, 'This isn't going away... It's definitely going to get worse. A lousy way to launch ourselves. We should change it. If we have to apologize, we apologize, we make some statement.' We did it very quickly.

It was a very good cultural experience and it did teach us a number of things. One of which was, as Anglos, we often just say, 'There's the Latino community. The Latino community speaks with one voice.' But it really doesn't. The Latino community is as diverse as the Asian community or the European community. There was some really good lessons for all of us in there."

Robinson: "The first appearance I ever did was at a small indoor soccer complex. There were maybe thirty people there. Somebody brought some Chik-fil-a chicken nugget trays. We signed autographs and took pictures and it was still probably just as much or more than anything we ever done in San Jose. Again, we weren't very popular in San Jose. Nobody cared that we were in San Jose until we were leaving San Jose and it was too little, too late."

Ching: "To be honest, I didn't know what to expect. I didn't really get a feel for what anything was going to be like until, really, that first game."

Onstad: "We knew we had a good team. The year before, we had won the Supporters Shield. We really hadn't made any changes. If anything, we felt a year stronger and a little bit more hungry because we had blown it in the playoffs the year before. We didn't want to have that feeling again. We knew coming into Houston in '06, we had a great shot of winning the thing."

Clark: "I remember the first game was awesome. There was a lot of energy, a good crowd. All of us didn't really know what to expect coming in and I remember we had a great game that day."

Ching: "I heard stories of Phil Anschutz out collecting tickets to get people in because we weren't prepared for the amount of people."

Onstad: "I think we knew there was a pretty big buzz in the city but... you knew as we walked down the tunnel that there was something special right off the bat. For us, it gave us a little extra lift and Brian scoring [four goals] and then the goal of the game was Alejandro Moreno's bicycle kick. There was some great moments in that game and I think everyone had played a part in that game. I think everybody either made a big tackle or a big pass or got an assist or a goal."

Ching: "For that kind of statement to be made right from the beginning, it really went a long way and that, I guess endeared us to Houston and the fans and kickstarted a great relationship."

Robinson: "People can say what they want about the Galaxy teams but you put this current LA Galaxy team - even with Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, and Omar Gonzalez - against our '03 - '06 teams, we would've done to them like we did to everyone else. We would've bashed them in their mouths and we would've scored goals along the way."

In the next part, we'll retrace the steps of the back-to-back MLS Cup Champions through their first two seasons.

Part 2, Part 3Part 4

(Photo Credits: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images; Harry How/Getty Images; Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)