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.
Pat Onstad, Goalkeeper (2006-2010): "We were promised the stadium was going to come and it was going to come soon. Didn't come soon enough for me. [laughs]"
Eddie Robinson, Defender (2006-2011): "BBVA Compass Stadium - thank heavens for Oliver Luck and Phil Anschutz for the time and energy those guys put in to make that stadium a part of reality... After going through what we went through at San Jose, then at UH - the way we were treated in both places. It's just amazing to see."
Chris Canetti, President (2010-current): "When Oliver was here, that was his thing. He was spending probably close to 100% of his time on the stadium while I was spending 100% of my time running the club day-to-day."
Oliver Luck, President (2006-2010): "The Dynamo stadium was a challenging deal to put together... but it was fun to do. I enjoyed it because I was really the only one doing it. [laughs]"
Canetti: "We had opportunities to build the stadium out in the suburbs and we probably could have gotten it built sooner and with less private investment. But we were convinced we needed to be downtown so we held firm on that and it might've taken a couple extra years and it might've cost us a lot more of a private investment but no doubt we did the right thing.
Luck: "When you do these [deals], you have to be very pragmatic. You have to compromise all over the place but one compromise that I refused to make was putting it outside of downtown. I thought it was crucial to the long-term success of the team.
Annise Parker became mayor and the morning after her election, I wrote a two or three-page memo to Annise that said, 'We've gotten 90% of the way there. Here's exactly the stadium play, if you will, from my perspective... We're not trying to change any of the deal points, here's just a summary.'... She basically said, 'Let's get this done. This is a good thing for the city.
It was a challenge to get AEG to a point where they were willing to put in a substantial investment. That's a long way to get the deal done. If we had demanded the stadium be 100% financed by the city and county... we'd still be playing in UH.
There's lots of people that can build buildings but the fun part for me, the important part for me, the challenging part for me was putting the whole financial deal together. You had to make sure the money was there and it worked. But that was done. I felt very comfortable leaving here [in 2010] and knowing that Chris, and more importantly, the contractors and all that were going to be able to pull that deal together and actually build the building. I didn't worry about that at all."
Canetti: "It wasn't until Oliver left in the middle of 2010 when I had to dig in and, at the time, the deal wasn't finished. The table had been set in a very nice way but we still had to get the thing across the goalline."
Luck: "I will say this. There were a lot of Dynamo supporters from all across various areas and ethnicities that got together to watch games that were really, really supportive of the stadium effort. I have fond memories of those guys coming down to city council meetings, county commission meetings, you name it. That was pretty cool because a lot of politicians really do respond when people show up. They were always respectful of the political process and all that, but a large part of the success that the stadium had, including the [Houston Amateur Sports Park], was they contributed to the engagement of Dynamo fans who really felt strongly. They loved the team and enjoyed watching them at UH but wanted a house that you could call your own. It was fun. It was very enjoyable work."
Ricardo Clark, Midfielder (2006-2009, 2012-current): "It was great to come back and play in that stadium and just see the whole changes that had gone on not only with the Dynamo but the whole league... Coming back with the Dynamo and just being able to train at the facilities they had that were top-notch with the locker room setup and not having to worry about getting kicked off the field at UH. It was awesome.
I can remember in San Jose, having to train at a local college about thirty minutes away that we had to drive to after we had met in the locker room... [At BBVA], I can say 'this is my club team. This is my locker room. This is ours.' It was a really cool feeling to come back and experience that and still experience being in this league and the team."
Canetti: "It was an unbelievable moment. You can't imagine what it means to go through that process, to close out a deal, to break ground, to have a vision for the stadium and watch it rise out of the ground and come to fruition. Then, for it to open, it was storybook... The crowd, Brian Ching comes back after that mess with Montreal, Brad scores the goal to win it. I mean, it couldn't have been any better. In fact, that whole season was really good. We didn't lose a game at home, we went to the MLS Cup Final... It's going to go down in history forever as a major turning point for the Houston Dynamo."
Clark: "It's obviously disappointing because we didn't win [the Cup Final]. We make it so far and have such a good season and grind through the playoffs. You obviously want to win and especially after losing to the same team last year. I'm thankful for the opportunity but you always - I'm a competitor at the end of the day and we were disappointed to lose but thankful that we had a relatively successful season."
For all the Dynamo's 2012 successes on the field, one player - the face of the franchise- was dealing with harsh realities.
Brian Ching, Forward (2006-2012): "To be honest, it was to the point where it was painful. I was coming home from practice everyday and I had to lay down. It hurt to walk downstairs and get up the stairs. It was just debilitating sometimes, affecting the quality of my life. Then I came to a point where I started getting worried about my health and what I was doing, taking anti-inflammatories just to play and be okay.
If I didn't take it, I definitely noticed that I was a step slower and it would frustrate me so I'd come home and I wasn't enjoying it anymore the way I used to. That's where I was like, 'Okay, I need to stop doing this to my body, one. Two, if I stop taking those things, then I definitely couldn't play the way I wanted to play.' That was frustrating for me. It was all those things together that was like, 'Okay, this is it for you.'"
Canetti: "I was very proud of [Ching's Testimonial]... I knew that he was a big enough icon here in this city that it would be worth it to do it and it proved to be worth it. Not only was it a great night just from an experience perspective, but we raised a ton of money - I think it was $125,000 - to give to his charity to build homes for people."
Ching: "I was a little nervous, to be honest, about people coming out and enjoying themselves. The fact that everyone did and everyone still tells me about being there at the game - even fans - it was pretty special and something that obviously I'll never forget."
Robinson: "Brian's event was so much fun and so deserved... The roast the night before, God, that was one of my favorite moments in the history of being part of this Dynamo organization - just being able to roast Brian Ching."
Canetti: "He's a Houston icon, the greatest player in dynamo history, just an unbelievable person and we're very, very fortunate that he was a part of our team as a player and as a part of our organization in the front office going forward."
Paul Dalglish, Forward (2006-2007): "When you were in tight games and you were looking for someone to produce a little bit of inspiration to win you the game, you didn't have to look much farther than Brian... I think Brian was the player that really epitomized, at that time, everything the Dynamo organization stood for and everything Dom wanted the team to be known for."
Robinson: "The stereotypical Earthquake-slash-Dynamo... You look at what Brian does for the community, for charity, he's always been available for an interview. He never turns down a picture or an autograph."
Ching: "It was very special in the sense that I started soccer playing in the streets with my friends and I got to end soccer in a home stadium that I felt like I helped be a part of building with a bunch of my friends. Having fun with no pressure just the way that everyone loves playing the game. Just out with a bunch of friends, having a good time - and it was all going to a good cause with 'The House That Ching Built.'"
After an Eastern Conference Finals exit to Kansas City in 2013 and a poor playoff-less 2014, the Dynamo announced they would be parting with the club's only coach in nine seasons, Dominic Kinnear.
Canetti: "We had an unbelievable working relationship and personal relationship... It was pretty obvious that perhaps change was in order. I knew where Dom was at and I knew where the club was at. So no, there was no surprise. There were lots of heart-to-heart conversations and, at the end of the day, I had to grant permission to let him go... Everybody felt like it was time to allow him to have that conversation with San Jose and eventually move on."
Dalglish: "With the budget that Dom had compared to other people in the league, you've got to say Dom has probably overachieved more than any other coach in the league with the tools he's got and the resources he's got."
Wade Barrett, Defender (2006-2009): "He wanted to win every single day and that was his main focus in practice and it was his main focus in the games. It wasn't so much about how it happened but just that it happened, period. I think that's one of the most valuable lessons that I've learned is to compete every single day and try to do the best that you can on that day. It'll either work your way or it won't but I'm back again the next day and you do the same thing."
Robinson: "Everybody knew how fiery he was but I think there were very few players or fans or people in the media that saw compassion... Every now and again, he'd be a bit condescending but his compassion for his players was pretty amazing. He was the one that inspired that team mentality... If there was ever anything wrong or ever any issues with any of the players, he was there. He was there for you."
Ching: "I knew what to expect from him and he knew what he was getting in me. He was one of the reasons I got back into the league... I think he stood by me even longer than he probably should have. I learned a lot from him. I learned about the passion you need to succeed at that level, learned a lot about loyalty, I learned a lot about playing the game as a man... I can't thank him enough for giving me the opportunity to get back in the league and sticking by me my entire career."
Canetti: "This is evolution and we're building the club... Now, with this change, we're able to go through this evolution and bring in the resources that I've deemed appropriate that are going to help us become far more sophisticated and advanced."
Robinson: "It's hard because there's never in the history of the Dynamo been a season with so much change... I look at the current roster and the quality of players and I can certainly say there's never been so much competition for places in Houston. That makes me happy... If I'm being honest, outside of right back, every other position in this team for Houston has significant competition. DaMarcus Beasley, Brad Davis, Giles Barnes - none of those guys can rest. They have to be good day-in and day-out because there's somebody right behind them that can be and will be just as good."
Canetti: "I want 2015 to be as exciting as it can be for our fans... We want to compete. We want to compete again."
Barrett: "From our perspective, there's a tremendous level of excitement about the new season... Owen has come in and stamped his style on the team. A whole new staff has come in... and they all have brought a fantastic level of expertise and energy. It really is a fun staff to be a part of.
The one thing that I've noticed in Owen's training and also in the games is that he demands a lot from his players. He demands that they put their full effort into every single training and for things to not fall below standard and he wants to win. In that regard, I think he and Dominic are very similar. It's one of the best coaching qualities that I can point to is just the desire to win every single day."
The Dynamo Decade
Ching: "Time flew. It doesn't seem like it's the tenth season and, in some ways, it feels like we've been around for a lot longer because of the success we've had but... it kinda went by in the blink of an eye. It's pretty crazy to think about where we are as an organization as opposed to where we were. I look forward to another ten years but I think it's a great opportunity to reflect on how far we've come in such a short period of time."
Clark: "It's pretty cool to just sit here and think that the team has been around for 10 years and know that you were a part of that early success and part of the start of it. Thankfully, we can look back on the ten years and have good memories and not just pretty crappy seasons and crappy memories. I'm really thankful that we're able to bring a core group of guys to Houston and have set a standard for the quality of soccer and success and, hopefully, the new guys that come in here know how to build off that and thrive."
Canetti: "Ten seasons is an important thing to celebrate. I also think it's a time to not only look back but to look forward... We have a vision to become a great American sports franchise. For me, what that looks like is the New York Yankees, the Boston Celtics, the Green Bay Packers, the LA Lakers - teams that are defined by success on the field, great histories, great traditions, star players, great venues, special brands. Time get you there. We're only nine years old. But every year, we want to get better and better and better towards that."
Onstad: "The biggest thing, for me and my memory of Houston, is the people. Not necessarily just the fans, but the people of Houston. We lived out in Shadow Creek Ranch in Pearland and, as a family, we loved Houston. We loved the people and we really felt a part of the community. There's not too many cities where you get to feel that way so we felt very fortunate we got to spend five great years in Houston."
Ching: "I think, as an organization, we're blessed with some really great players throughout its history in the sense that they all want to give back and be a part of the community. I think the guys in the beginning have a lot to do with that - the Craig Waibels, the Stuart Holdens, the Mike Chabalas, Brian Mullans, Dwayne De Rosario. All those guys all wanted to give back and we were blessed with an organization that was able to help us in doing a lot of those things. As an organization, we always felt like our fans gave us so much on the field that we always wanted to give back and be a part of them."
(Photo Credits: Troy Taormina/USA Today; Kelvin Kuo/USA Today; Troy Taormina/USA Today; Troy Taormina/USA Today; Thomas B. Shea/USA Today)