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.
MLS Cup 2007
Pat Onstad, Goalkeeper (2006-2010): "We dug ourselves a hole. We were pretty lucky to only be down 1-0 at halftime. We played probably our worst half we played all season. Funny enough, I remember thinking at halftime - I think there were probably a few of us that were looking at Dwayne, saying 'Dwayne, if you play like that again, we're gonna kill you.' He'll never admit it but that was probably one of the worst halves of soccer I think I've ever seen him play and I've known him since 1997. He was horrific."
Eddie Robinson, Defender (2006-2011): "We were using a 4-4-2 and it wasn't working. Dominic Kinnear said, 'What do you think about 3-5-2?' and we were like, 'Hell yeah, let's do it'... Dwayne was playing in the midfield and he was outnumbered. Now you put him in the midfield where it's even-numbered, now it's 1-v-1. Dwayne De Rosario when it's 1-v-1? There's no way to stop him."
Paul Dalglish, Forward (2006-2007): "Dwayne was really unorthodox. He could do the unexpected."
Brian Ching, Forward (2006-2012): "He was always the guy that wanted the ball in those big situations and, more often than not, he came through for your team. He provided that kind of creativity, that spark, that little bit of flair that our team lacked without him."
Onstad: "Then the second half, he was the exact opposite and single-handedly won that game for us and it was a fantastic second-half performance by him. I've never seen him score a header like that. It was ridiculous."
Robinson: "Joe Ngwenya got the goal to tie it up. When Dwayne scored, we're going back and look at Dom and Dom's telling us to go back to a 4-4-2 and I look at Dom and I said, 'Hell no. 3-5-2, let's stay'... Thankfully, I got Wade to agree with me and we said, 'Dom, let's stay 3-5-2' and Dom was like, 'Okay' because we were really taking it to them when that second goal came.
New England, they revved it up. They knew they didn't want to lose another one... I'll never forget the save that Pat made on Jeff Larentowicz. I don't remember who was marking Jeff when that ball came across but I was about three feet from him and I knew I couldn't get a hand to him so I kicked him as hard as I could in the leg. Go back and watch the replay and I kick him in the shinguard as hard as I can and whether that had any effect or not, I don't know. Pat's reflex save on that was amazing and it won us the game."
Ricardo Clark, Midfielder (2006-2009, 2012-current): "Obviously, I wanted to be on the pitch for both [Cup Finals]. I was just glad that the team could come through and the way they did was absolutely crazy."
Robinson: "I look at '01, Dwayne scored the goal in overtime... In '03, Pat Onstad saves an Ante Razov penalty kick... In '06, Pat Onstad saves Jay Heaps... In '07, Dwayne De Rosario scores a stupid headed goal from nowhere. I owe my four rings to freaking Canadians. How does that work?"
The 2007 season also marked the beginning of international soccer for Houston Dynamo. Participating in CONCACAF Champions' League and SuperLiga play, the Dynamo would foster a strong, competitive rivalry with Mexico's Pachuca.
Onstad: "Pachuca. The games we had against Pachuca, I think, are some of the best games I've ever been involved in at the club level. They were a fantastic team. Not just in Mexico, but they were just a fantastic team and a great team to play against. Those were good games."
Ching: "To be honest, we didn't really know too much about [Pachuca] before we stepped on the field with them the first time. Once we got on the field, we knew they were an extremely talented team - probably one of the best teams we ever faced as an organization... Those were some of the funnest games to play because they were so talented and difficult."
Wade Barrett, Defender (2006-2009): "Every game we played against [Pachuca] was competitive and I think there was, again, a kind of healthy respect between both teams that understood that every time you stepped on the field against them, it was going to be a tough game... A couple of those games against Pachuca were some of the most memorable and rewarding games I had played in my career because they were a top-quality opponent that really brought out the best in our team."
Clark: "I remember SuperLiga and I remember that being an absolutely awesome tournament. Honestly, I think they should bring that back. It was really super-competitive, there was a lot of energy in the crowds... I remember we had some very heated games that year."
Robinson: "I just remember getting so angry at times and really wanting to get into a fist-fight, getting stopped or grabbed by somebody else. When I was younger, I just thought I was Johnny Bad-Ass and I would talk crap to guys. Then, late in my career, I just realized, 'Y'know what? If you're gonna talk crap to me, I'm going to tell you that I'll be at your hotel after the game if you want to fight or shut up.' I didn't want to fight. I just wanted to talk crap."
Dalglish: "My body was done. My ankle was fully healed but [a problem developed in the pubic bone] wasn't going away. I had been told the only cure for it was two years' rest... It's very, very hard when you're being a professional to admit when you're done and, especially with it being through injury... I just couldn't accept that my body was broken down on me."
Robinson: "[In 2008], the Soccer Gods said, 'Hey guys, you've won enough. It's somebody else's turn.'"
Onstad: "[The 3-0 home playoff loss to RBNY] was disappointing. We had the 1-1 draw in the first leg. I think we were pretty confident, maybe overconfident. Unfortunately for us, we blew it. Probably my biggest disappointment with that group of players."
Robinson: "We weren't terrible but we made a couple mistakes and [RBNY] were capitalizing off it and that was the difference. It was frustrating. People ask me, to this day, who was the best forward I ever played against. I don't hesitate or take a breath when I say Juan Pablo Angel. The guy's movement, his manipulation [of defenders] was unbelievable and second to none."
In 2009, the Dynamo bounced back pushing into the Western Conference Final in Los Angeles, a/k/a, "The Blackout Game".
Onstad: "It was disappointing, y'know. I think that year, we had a good year but not a great year. I thought we gave ourselves a good chance in the playoffs and I think that a lot of that was just experience. Unfortunately for us, we ran up against what I think was a pretty talented team in LA. A few momentum swings, y'know. I think we had momentum when the lights went out but that happens. By no means do I think it was about flipping the switch off-and-on. I think it just happened. The whole area went out in California at the time - that whole community. Unfortunately for us, it was just bad timing. We still should have been able to bounce back but we didn't. It was a tough way to go out but I was actually pretty proud of that team. That was a team that fought through a lot that year to get as far as we did."
Barrett: "I was just ready [to retire]. Everybody has to come to that decision on their own and I had many good years in the league. The opportunity came up to potentially join the coaching staff and I was ready to move on... I'll be forever thankful [to Dom] for that first opportunity to try coaching and I really, really enjoyed it."
The 2010 season marked the first in franchise history that the Dynamo did not advance to the playoffs.
Onstad: "I think the goaltending stunk that year... It was a difficult year. Nothing seemed to be going our way. Soccer is so low-scoring at times, you need a lot of things to go your way... Everything went our way in '09, outside of maybe the lights going out (probably the first thing that didn't go our way that year). It tends to balance itself out in our sport. 2010, whether it was injuries or guys didn't play up to par, myself included, it was just a tough year. Unfortunately, that was the end of it for me."
Chris Canetti, President (2010-current): "It was a rough year missing the playoffs that year. I think it was pretty evident to everybody who watched the team that the players that had been so great and helped us become so successful - the group just didn't work anymore."
Robinson: "That group of guys that held the locker room to a specific standard started to fade or were not on the field anymore. That's when you saw that fundamental change in how the Dynamo would need to play to win games."
Onstad: "You play 34 games and you look back and you're miles off from the playoff spot. Well, there's a reason you are. You aren't good enough and you have to make changes."
Robinson: "I think that was hard for Dominic, too... I personally feel like I saw a lot of frustration set in for him because that's the way it was and now he had to expect different things out of his players. I certainly think that being away from California just took its toll on him."
Onstad: "Basically, Dom didn't offer me a contract. That's how I came to the decision [to retire]. [laughs] Y'know, I was 42 and I know I didn't have a good year. I had a few injuries as well that, unfortunately, I didn't bounce back from. It comes to that time -- time catches up to you no matter who you are or what you're doing. Unfortunately for me, that was my last year. That was it."
Robinson: " was a little frustrating because you've been in a group for seven years and I'd gotten to the point where I couldn't count on my body to do certain things and perform in certain ways. It was a learning experience for me that my body couldn't specifically perform to the level that I expected it to or wanted it to. And that was hard. It was very hard to deal with because I was still in this 'I'm tougher than you' mode and I think it was too late that I realized I can't play like that."
Canetti: "Dom and I knew that it was time to make changes to the roster and I think we went out that offseason and made substantial change... I was really proud of the fact that we went from not making the playoffs to going to the MLS Cup [in 2011]."
Ching: "You look back and be like, 'Wow, we really accomplished a lot as a young team.' Having all that turnover, it was just different than the past because in the past, we had all these veteran guys that knew what it took to win. In 2011, you had a lot of young guys... that had never been to that point in the playoffs or in those situations. A lot of those guys grew up and became men and played really, really well in that playoff run.
It was a different perspective. You're kind of a leader-slash-captain of the team. To be able to bring up a young group of guys, after we've had so much turnover in the past two, three years... [In MLS], it was extremely difficult to keep together a good team and the fact that [the club] could turnover that much and get back to the Final -- it was pretty special."
Robinson: "[In 2011], I felt like I was in the best shape of my life but that was physical. Mentally, it got to a point where I wasn't playing - I wasn't even first-team choice. 'Do I have the energy to sit through that again?' Not really. It wasn't like I'd never won an MLS Cup, I'd never won a Supporters' Shield. I'm not gonna extend my career because of the US Open Cup... I was fortunate to have quite a bit of work available to me should I decide to not continue playing. That made it easier.
I'm smart enough to know that, at some point, this club is gonna find someone way more worthy of having their banner up on a column at BBVA Compass Stadium, so I'm prepared for that. Y'know, I know only played for six years so in thirty years, there'll probably be some kid that's played for fifteen. And he's probably going to take my spot and that's fine, I have no problem with that. I'm just thankful to be able to do what I did for as long as I did and to meet and play with the people I did."
Ching: "Right after the Final, you're still dealing with the loss and you get told that you're going to be left unprotected [in the Expansion Draft]. I felt like [Montreal] wouldn't pick me because of my age, my salary, dealing with injuries I did that previous season. When Dom told me I was left unprotected, I was like, 'Okay, that's fine.' [laughs] Y'know? Not really thinking about the consequences of what would actually occur.
Then Montreal calls me and they say, 'Hey, we're thinking about picking you up. Would you want to come play here?' And I said, 'No.' [laughs] 'I want to finish my career in Houston. I've always been a loyal person and I'd like to stay here and, obviously nothing against you or the city, it's just the fact that I've spent most of my career here and I really enjoy it with this organization.' Having that conversation the day before the draft, then seeing I got drafted, it was a shock. I literally turned off my phone for a good while while I dealt with the emotions. You just lost the MLS Cup, then you turn around and you find out that you're moving and you have to be in a different city when you made your intentions clear to Montreal that you didn't want to go.
[The Dynamo] said that they were going to work on getting me back, which was great and I appreciate it. I knew it was going to be a process but I also prepared myself for the fact that I might have to play a year or two in Montreal. I enjoyed those guys. I really had a good time during my preseason there. I felt like whenever I'm on the field, I always give 110%, wherever I was. I'll fight for my teammates and that was kind of the approach I took up there.
Part of it was I did want to be a part of the stadium opening... because we felt like we were a big part of that stadium here and a big part of the progress of soccer here in Houston. For me, to be a part of that was such a special moment, not only for me and our organization, but for our fans. It's something I didn't want to miss at all.
Fortunately enough, they were able to come to a deal for me to come back to Houston."
In Part IV, Oliver Luck and Chris Canetti walk us through the process of building BBVA Compass Stadium and Houston says goodbye to an icon, Brian Ching.
(Photo Credit: Bob Levey/Getty Images; Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images; Dario Ayala/Montreal Gazette)