This is Part II of a multi-part oral history. Part I can be found here and covers the team's transition from San Jose.
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 its 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.
Brian Ching, Forward (2006-2013): "We were confident in who we were. I think that resilience, that toughness, that 'difficulty to play against' were all there and were lessons that we've learned over the years. I think we were a team that expected to win, we were a team that was tough to play against, and we just went about our business."
Wade Barrett, Defender (2006-2009): "It was a group of players that seemed like they understood what needed to happen over the course of a game. We learned lessons from previous seasons that we brought into the next year and we all kind of helped guide the team at different points of the season. [As captain], the biggest responsibility for me was just going out and trying to win the coin toss."
Paul Dalglish, Forward (2006-2007): "It was a quite mature dressing room compared to most... The guys came in to work and there was a little corner with Pat Onstad, Wade Barrett, and Brian Mullan - they used to like to call themselves the 'Coffee Club'... but we called them the 'Book Club'. [laughs]"
James Clarkson, Director of Youth Development (2006-current): "When the first team were at Robertson, they didn't really have a lot. They were sharing the field. You'd go there some days and the band were marching on the field, the women's team were there, or people were throwing javelins. All that sort of stuff the first team had to deal with."
Eddie Robinson, Defender (2006-2011): "We're in this old stadium at the University of Houston that we have to get out of for football gamedays and go dress out of the women's softball locker room. But the days that we do get to be in the football locker room, there's stray cats that run through the ceilings, and down the tiles there's roaches everywhere... But we said, 'Y'know what? I don't care. You're not gonna give us anything? We're gonna show you.' That was the attitude."
Pat Onstad, Goalkeeper (2006-2010): "Honestly, the biggest thing we were worried about wasn't playing in a football stadium but was when we first got here, I think the deal with Houston was they were going to lay down FieldTurf. For us, the last thing we wanted was to play on FieldTurf in August in Houston. Can't imagine how hot that would be. So, we were pretty happy when they said they would keep grass in for a couple of years."
Dalglish: "It was hot. I mean, it was August [when I came to the team] and I genuinely came out and I said, 'How do people play in this?' I presumed we must play indoor or Dom must train indoor so I couldn't believe that people would go outside and train in the heat... I remember getting up in the morning [of my first day]... and I went downstairs and I was just sat outside waiting to be picked up and I was sweating. And it was only around 7 o'clock in the morning."
Onstad: "It was certainly nice being in the middle of December. It was probably about 60 degrees out and that was a different experience for a Canadian from Vancouver."
Dalglish: "I don't think anybody ever gets used to it. You only learn how to prepare - to prepare for it better."
The Inaugural Playoffs
Dalglish: "I came in towards the end of the season and you could tell the team was just taking over."
Onstad: "I think in '06 - not that it felt easy - but it always felt like we were always building up going into the playoffs and it felt like we were hitting our stride."
Dalglish: "The team that we played in the round before to get to the game against Colorado - the Chivas team under Bob Bradley - was a really, really good team. They were two really tough games. We knew once we got through those games that we felt really comfortable and really, really confident in our chances against anybody at Robertson Stadium."
Onstad: "That was a difficult series especially for us. I don't think we ever felt like that was going to be an easy way."
Dalglish: "I think it was Fernando Clavijo came out and called us 'predictable' before the [Colorado] game. That was just a little bit of motivation we needed to make sure we focused our minds going into that game... So when they scored very early on in the game, there was no panic. Because they scored so early, it wasn't even really a setback.
I think the first goal was a great little pass around the corner from DeRo. Joe Cannon was in goal for Colorado... and I remember seeing him coming out quickly and I knew that when he was moving forward that quick, he wouldn't be able to change direction very easily. I knew I had to just get it through his legs or touch it either side and he wouldn't be able to move his feet. I managed to keep it low and score that first goal that really got us on our way.
The second goal was an overhead cross from Brad [Davis] and Mullan was on the other side... and I kind of anticipated where Mullan was going to cross it to and it was - I don't think I've ever had a simpler header than that in my career. Three yards out and I managed to head it down and obviously put us in front. We were never going to let that game go away from us at our home."
Ching: "It was an ugly game, an ugly Final."
Robinson: "Oh, it was a shit game. It was shit."
Dalglish: "It was a real kind of boring game, if you were to watch it."
Onstad: "There were a few moments that I remember distinctly. I think one was coming out for the warm-up. Y'know, as the goalkeeper, we always come out a little early. I was out maybe ten minutes before the rest of the group but I came out and all you could see was a sea of orange. One side was predominantly orange and there was a tiny little pocket of blue in the far corner. You just knew it was a home game. I don't think anyone expected that."
Ching: "Y'know it did feel a bit like destiny for us - in the sense that it was Dallas and the whole stadium was orange. It was pretty special."
Dalglish: "Just the emotion of it made you feel a bit heavy-legged before the game."
Robinson: "I remember the buildup to it. Watching local news every night and it comes out that Mattress Mack is going to cater food for all the fans that drive up. And there was a caravan of about 2000 people that drove up from Houston and he fed them all. Man, it was like, 'Wow, that's awesome.'"
Barrett: "I think we had developed a really healthy rivalry with New England... It was a team that was very similar to us and they had a really quality group of players - more than one or two leaders on the team. It was a group that understood how to play together and fought hard for each other."
Dalglish: "The kind of pressure of the situation got to people and it was a real kind of boring game until Twellman scored."
Robinson: "Khano Smith had the ball. I saw Taylor Twellman off to my right make a run in behind me so I moved to take away the passing lane and just as I did that, Khano Smith hit the ball and I was right in the path of it. Somehow, it went through my legs. I couldn't believe it. I was dumbfounded... I turned and watched Taylor Twellman do what Taylor Twellman does, finishing in the far post and I'm just like, 'You have to be kidding me.' Part of me is thinking 'How is this happening?', part of me is thinking, 'Well, I guess it's their turn. They've been to the MLS Cup plenty of times, it's finally their turn.' I was gutted. I was destroyed. I looked up, the ball is put down, the whistle blows, and I looked down at the ground. I was gutted. I picked my head up when I hear the crowd roar."
Dalglish: "I remember [Twellman] running the whole length of the pitch where they had a little corner of supporters. And he ran past all the Dynamo fans and ran the whole length of the pitch to celebrate. I think everybody was watching, y'know, kinda feeling sick to their stomach and it didn't take very long for Chingy to pull us back into contention."
Ching: "They score in Extra Time and, like we did all year, we were a team that never gave up. We always fought to the end. We always believed we had a chance and, lo and behold, we get a little bit. It was one of those things where when they scored, you kinda put your head down for a second but then you turn around and you're like, 'Alright, we still got five or ten minutes to rectify this and turn this around.'"
Onstad: "You're gonna get one more opportunity and that was the one message that, right away, guys started buying it. 'We're gonna get one chance. Let's put it away. We're gonna get one chance.' Fortunately for us, we did. Then Brian made no mistake."
Ching: "I think Brian [Mullan] gets by somebody on the wing and we get a little bit fortunate with the deflection on the cross. But putting yourself in good situations, luck is on your side sometimes. I found the ball and was able to put it in the back of the net."
Robinson: "There's Brian Ching on the back post and the ball goes in the goal and I'm like, "What just happened?' I didn't see it. In the run of play, I didn't see it. I had to go back and watch the replay that night because I didn't see the goal because I was so upset about [Taylor's goal]."
Ching: "I think that game epitomized what that team was all about. We weren't a fancy team, we weren't the most beautiful team to watch but I think what people admired (and what our fans definitely picked up on) was our resilience and our willingness to fight and grit and grind things out... I think that game was all about that."
Robinson: "I remember going to the penalties and Dom starts calling out and I'm telling him, 'I want one' and he says, 'No chance.' [laughs]"
Onstad: "They had penalty kicks against Chicago [in the semifinal]... so we had a big advantage. I was able to see all those penalty kicks. I had a look. Three of the five guys - Matt Reis, Pat Noonan, and Twellman - had all taken in that game against Chicago so I had a pretty good idea where those guys were going. Well, two or three of them scored and then Noonan put his over. Jay Heaps, I hadn't seen. The only thing I could say, looking at Jay coming down there, he didn't look the most confident. And who would? There's no bigger pressure moment - certainly for an American guy - than the MLS Cup Final. I just kept saying to myself, 'If you guess right here, you can have a shot.' Fortunately for me, I did guess right. He didn't hit it well at all but it happens.
I was able to hold the ball and it's not so often that goalies get to go slide in on their knees. I remember just kinda running to the orange group and seeing them going crazy. It was pretty fun to watch, actually. Then, at that moment, I got absolutely annihilated by my guys. [laughs] Even to this day, I can remember that just two or three seconds that I had with the fans. It was pretty special."
Chris Canetti, President (2010-current): "I remember the moment of standing there behind the goal. I went and joined all the supporters behind the goal where the penalty kicks were taking place, watching us win the Cup from that perspective. It was a very emotional moment after everything we had gone through in that brief period of time in less than a year and to stand there and be a champion. It was unbelievable."
Dalglish: "It was all a little bit surreal. Five, six months before, I was really happy playing in [Hibernian] in Edinburgh and all of a sudden I was winning the MLS Cup. It was pretty surreal and a rapid journey to go from one country to being a champion of another."
Ching: "One of, probably, the proudest moments of my life... because of all we had been through that year, and what we achieved and the way we achieved it. It wasn't easy for us and we had the resilience to see it through... It takes a special group of guys to deal with that much distraction and get the job done on the field and not let it really affect us. I don't think too many groups of guys could actually deal with the things we had to deal with that year and win the MLS Cup at the end of it."
Robinson: "I tried to maintain some sense of perspective and humility and be like, 'Wow' but at the same time, it was, 'You all just kicked us out of San Jose. What do you think about that, San Jose? What do you think about that, Major League Soccer?" I was happy but I was still angry."
Onstad: "I will never say who has the game ball but let's just say I have pretty good hands. [laughs]"
Canetti: "Generally speaking, 2006 was a whirlwind. The team arrived so late on the scene and it was such a fast startup. We threw things together the best we could and we had this run all the way to the MLS Cup. It was kinda like we didn't even have a chance to catch our breath and we had to start all over again in 2007. Success created opportunity but it also didn't exactly give us a chance to slow down and ever catch our breath."
Barrett: "Any time you go on a good postseason run and, of course, when you come home with the Cup, it builds a little bit of extra confidence within the group. So yeah, I think that momentum carried over into 2007. I think that feeling in the locker room was absolutely that we could compete to defend that championship and to bring home another one."
Dalglish: "I felt really, really good. I was really excited for the season. The game against Colorado in Colorado was the first game we won, I think. It was the first game of the year that I really felt back up to 100% fitness. It was after that I injured my ankle. That was my last game that I ever played for the Dynamo."
Onstad: "I do know that was a weird year. It never felt that we really hit our peak. It never felt like it was an easy season for us... I think in '06, we just felt like the game was on our side and in '07, it was a lot more difficult."
Robinson: "It got to a point, I think, people were pissed off that the little guy was winning. No longer were they going to take us softly - 'Screw you guys. We're going to kick your ass. You won MLS Cup. Everyone's like San Jose, Houston, dynasty. Screw you guys.'"
Clark: "It was just an incident where we were battling all game. He had come at me a couple times that weren't appropriate. I lost my cool and just retaliated. Probably not the smartest way. Obviously, I got my fine, my suspension. It was difficult because I had to miss the rest of the year and the playoffs and we did special things that year"
Robinson: "Certainly not happy for Ricardo. The fine he got, the games he missed. But I can't say it wasn't deserved. You get what you deserve in life and [Carlos Ruiz] deserved it and unfortunately it didn't happen when we ran into him at a nightclub but it happened on the field and in front of a bunch of cameras. I felt bad for Ricardo but I don't feel bad for Carlos."
Onstad: "Yeah, [Eddie and Carlos Ruiz] didn't like each other very much. Here's a good story. Carlos and I played against each other with Canada and [Guatemala] and I have a lot of respect for him. He's a very good striker, a very good player in our league, good International in CONCACAF. I wouldn't say I developed a friendship but I played in the All-Star Game with him and sat beside him in the locker room and spoken to him a little bit. [One day, Ruiz's team] was training before us and so I just talked to him for a couple minutes after training, shook his hand, and off he went to his bus. We went through training and I remember all training, Eddie was just irritable and I wasn't quite sure why. We get back to the bus and the next thing I know, Eddie is going off on me, getting in my face [laughs], 'How could you talk to that scumbag?' He's going crazy to the point where I'm thinking, 'He might want to fight me here about this.' That was just Eddie. There was no switch. You're either all in or you're against him. I learned that... if I ever saw Carlos, just to look over my shoulder that Eddie wasn't watching. [laughs]"
Robinson: "I did respect Carlos Ruiz for how good he was because the guy could finish from anywhere... I just felt like he didn't have the level of respect for the game of soccer that I thought he should."
Rivalry in the Playoffs
Robinson: "That's the thing about the playoffs... you can get in by the skin of your teeth, peak at the right time, and win. That's what we did but look at the players we had. Is it surprising? We had Dwayne De Rosario. The guy just scored goals."
Onstad: "I think we had a pretty good record against [Dallas]... We lost the first one 0-1 away. I remember for us, that was actually where we were a little bit shocked like, 'We actually lost to these guys? We never lose to these guys.'
Even at 1-0 down, I don't think we were worried about it because we were like, 'Listen, we don't lose to these guys. That was a fluke goal.' I remember when [Carlos] Ruiz scored, looking around and we were like, 'Ohhhh, this isn't the script we were supposed to be writing.'"
Ching: "I think we were a little bit fortunate that [Arturo] Alvarez got red-carded that game [in the 47']. I think even though we went down 2-0, we were a team that felt like we were gonna come back. I think we were a team that were really, really confident when it came to playing in front of our own fans."
Dalglish: "Although the new stadium's beautiful and the facilities are incredible, I do believe that the atmosphere that Robertson created when it was full was hard to beat."
Ching: "I think some of those playoff games at Robertson were still some of the best games... [the fans] really helped carry us through those games."
Onstad: "Alvarez gets sent off. That pretty much, for us, turned the tide."
Ching: "For that first goal, I had a long ball played in the box and I headed it back down and Stuart [Holden] scored a nice volley to get us our first goal. Then Dwayne played me through at the top of the box and I left-foot finish near post on that keeper to tie us.
We ended up scoring two in overtime. The ball came across on a go-ahead goal and I think Joseph Ngwenya kinda mis-hit it and it went right to me in front of goal and I just knocked it in. Once that goal goes in, and they're down a man, I think the wind just went out of their sails. Then Brad hits a beautiful free kick to finish them off."
Robinson: "That's why we beat everyone... Nobody could match our effort and our intensity. I go back and I look at it and I'm like, 'Man, I feel bad for New England for that MLS Cup.'... I feel bad for guys like Steve Nichols, Taylor Twellman, Matt Reis, and Pat Noonan - these guys who were so good for so long that arguably deserve to win an MLS Cup. But, unfortunately for them, they ran up against us and our attitude as players - not just individuals, but as a team."
In Part III, we'll go inside MLS Cup 2007 and the transitions that would re-tool the team for years to come.
(Photo Credit: Bob Levey/Getty Images; Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)