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The Houston Dynamo for Dummies

An abbreviated primer on the most successful sports franchise in Texas this side of the Spurs. (Update: the Dynamo lost to the LA Galaxy, 3-1, in the 2012 MLS Cup Final.)

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Houston Dynamo

(Update: the Dynamo lost to the LA Galaxy, 3-1, in the 2012 MLS Cup Final.)

The Texans-Titans game is not ’til Sunday. That Alabama- Georgia SEC championship game is just going to make you wish the Aggies had another shot at LSU (or the Longhorns had a shot at all). So why not turn your Saturday sports-watching attention to the most successful franchise in Texas this side of the San Antonio Spurs?

That would be Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo, which will face the L.A. Galaxy in the MLS Cup Final at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. It’s a familiar spot for Houston’s soccer club, both because the Dynamo lost to the Galaxy in last year’s final, and because Houston won back-to-back championships in 2006 and 2007, the first two seasons that the team existed. Manager Dominic Kinnear has been in charge that entire time, and this season, the Dynamo’s long tenancy at the University of Houston’s Robertson Stadium came to an end with the completion of the soccer-only BBVA Compass Stadium in downtown Houston.

On behalf of non-soccer fans (and non Houstonians), we reached out to a few experts with some basic questions about the Dynamo, the sport, and the MLS Cup. 

1. The Dynamo are back in the MLS Cup Final for the second straight year despite being the Eastern team with the worst record. Is there something about this franchise that makes it especially good at the postseason?

The short answer is Dominic Kinnear. Tactically he gets it right every time. 

– Michael Bertin, former Austinite and freelance writer (Deadspin, Slate, ESPN). 

Two words: Dominic Kinnear. The man knows how to build a team given the resources available, and knows how to approach the long season so that the players are in peak form when the playoffs arrive. An MLS season really is two separate seasons–regular season and playoffs. 

– Eric Carl Nordstrom, Dynamo fan

The Dynamo seem to take it to another level in the playoffs and against top teams. They had winning records against the two top seeds, but they struggled and dropped points against the worst. When it matters, they step it up, which is why they dominated Eastern Conference top seed Sporting Kansas City all season and in the playoffs.

– Jose de Jesus Ortiz, Houston Chronicle soccer writer

 It all comes down to Dominic Kinnear. At this point he is the leading candidate to become the next coach of the US national soccer team after the World Cup in 2014.

– Dave Brett Wasser, Austin-based historian and soccer videotape collector

It was an experienced group of guys the first couple of years that set the tone. When you have good leadership from the beginning, it carries over to the following teams. It starts with the coaching staff and transcends through the players, from the veterans down to the rookies.

– Bobby Boswell, Dynamo defender

2. Has there been a noticeable change in the city’s interest in the team now that they’re finally out of Robertson and downtown at their own stadium?

I haven’t been to a game at the new stadium but it has to have helped. Robertson was a dump. And no professional soccer team should have to play on a field with football markings.

– Michael Bertin

I think it definitely gave the franchise some credibility. It piqued the interest of a lot of Houstonians that had never been to a match before. It’s a very unique and visually striking stadium, unlike any one we have here, so I think that also heightened the interest in attending matches. Word of mouth spread about how great our team is and how fun attending matches is, which helped ticket sales. The Dynamo are still unbeaten at home.

– Adriana Perez, Dynamo fan. 

Sure there has. Whenever there is a new stadium there is going to be a surge in interest for the team. And this stadium was built largely with private funds. It’s a sign of how far soccer has come in this country that investors in Houston and plenty of other cities are putting that much money into the sport.

– Dave Brett Wasser

The arrival of BBVA Compass Stadium has brought on a new, higher level of excitement and awareness about our brand and organization in the city of Houston. This is reflected in all aspects of our organization, but most notably on our higher attendance numbers, which saw an increase of almost 20% when compared to 2011 (21,015 average attendance per MLS game, good for 4th place among 19 MLS clubs). This is the second-highest average attendance in Houston.  The Texans have the #1 spot.

– Lester Gretsch, Dynamo Senior Director of Communications and Broadcasting

3. Conversely, while Mayor Parker was once again encouraging the city to wear their orange Friday, is it difficult for this sport in this city to have its championship right in the heart of NFL season (especially this particular Texans season)? Or is it just an alternate sports universe? 

It’s an alternate sports universe, but the Texans are king. There’s no shame in that because the Texans are kings compared to the Astros and Rockets too.

– Jose de Jesus Ortiz

I actually don’t think it is–not for the hardcore fans anyway. For me, once I got the soccer bug, my interest in watching American Football on TV waned precipitously. No commercials, no television timeouts, just 45 minutes-plus, halftime, and 45 minutes-plus. Imagine that–I’m a guy who grew up in Texas, played football, and was taught to hate soccer–now the NFL is more of the afterthought to me. Don’t get me wrong–I’m excited for the Texans. I’ve suffered with them since I moved to Houston ten years ago, but I don’t ever have trouble concentrating because they’re playing “on the weekend.” Likewise, it’s much easier and more affordable to attend a Dynamo game than a Texans game. I’ve been to one Texans game in the last two years. I’ve been to almost all of the Dynamo home games since 2008. 

– Eric Nordstrom

It’s definitely challenging.  Curiously enough, though, our attendance numbers during the fall (i.e., Texans’ season) have always been strong.  We know what the other football means to the city and to Texas as a whole (especially this year with the great success the Texans are having), so normally we need to be very strategic in our approach when planning events and publicity stunts so that they don’t conflict with anything they may have going on.  However, Houston is big enough to provide all teams (not just us or the Texans) with the opportunity to succeed in terms of following and attendance. 

– Lester Gretsch

4. If you’re one of those fans who has ignored MLS in favor of the international game, what does the league have to offer today that it didn’t five years ago? 

The quality of play is inching up. It’s still way behind the top Euro leagues–you can see it in the first touch during play, it’s painfully obvious. But it’s getting better, enough so that you’re not embarrassed to watch. And I think fans of the international game want to like MLS. They want the game to get better and bigger here, so even if it doesn’t offer the quality of play it still gives them something that’s part of a more regional community. I mean, as an Arsenal fan I know I’m part of something that is really global. I can travel in Africa and talk Arsenal. But I also like being part of something that is more intimate. 

– Michael Bertin

David Beckham gave the league more credibility internationally, and the league is better because of his move to MLS. Since he arrived in 2007, the league went from 14 teams to 19 teams with some big European names like Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane coming over to MLS.

– Jose de Jesus Ortiz

I do watch a lot of international soccer, and I think the MLS is steadily becoming a more skillful league. The future success of MLS lies in attracting talent from throughout the Americas that can be developed and sold abroad in more lucrative markets. It’s not rocket science. Right now the top league in our federation is the Liga MX in Mexico. A lot of the top talent from the Americas lands there. Most MLS clubs cannot compete economically with the top Mexican clubs, the peculiarities of MLS ownership structure aside. But MLS can offer an opportunity to younger players still in need of development on the professional level, and those are the types of players that offer the greatest risk/reward in the international football business. That being said, there are still a lot of people who turn their nose up at MLS. For me, I know MLS isn’t as pretty as the Premier League, but I don’t care. I follow my club, and my club plays in MLS. It’s that simple. 

– Eric Nordstrom

MLS has made slow but steady progress getting fans of the international game to pay more attention to the American game. But I am not going to tell you that MLS is substantially different now than it was five years ago. The quality of play is about the same.

– Dave Brett Wasser

5. One of the big stories of the Dynamo season was the transfer of Geoff Cameron from MLS to Stoke City of the English Premier League, one of the sport’s pinnacles. How did fans take it at the time, and how does it feel now, considering what the team accomplished without him?

Losing Geoff Cameron was a huge blow, but I think as Houston Dynamo fans we were so excited to have one of our own get called up to the “big league.” There is no denying that the EPL is the best league, so it was actually flattering that they wanted one of our own. I was worried that our season was over after he left but I was happy to be wrong.

– Adriana Perez

It’s funny. Everyone keeps saying we “lost Geoff.” Honestly, it doesn’t really feel that way. We knew his time was coming, we knew he’d earned the shot, and we are all tremendously excited for him to get the opportunity given his rise from a third-round no-name centerback from Rhode Island to a starting defender for a team in arguably the top league in the world. Not to mention the league and club were well compensated for the transfer. I feel an immense pride in Geoff every time I see him take the field in Stoke City colors.

– Eric Nordstrom

Fans and the organization were saddened to see him go, but at the same time happy for what the future held (and continues to hold) for him.  Luckily, our squad is deep in terms of talent, so other players were ready to step in and fill the void he left as soon as his transfer to Stoke City was completed. This, in addition to our mid-season acquisitions (Ricardo Clark and Honduran international Boniek Garcia) helped to keep the team on track and focused.

 – Lester Gretsch

The fans mostly wanted what’s best for Cameron. His move to the EPL legitimizes the Dynamo somewhat and spreads the team’s brand abroad. It helped that Ricardo Clark was brought in to take over his spot on the roster, though.

– Jose de Jesus Ortiz

6. Who’s the one player you’d tell a new viewer to watch on Saturday and why?

Boniek Garcia. The Honduran international is both tenacious and crafty with the ball. He terrorizes opposing teams with his creativity, energy, and unpredictability.  He also plays with a big, bright smile. This, along with his work ethic, makes him a joy to watch.

– Lester Gretsch

I’d recommend fans pay attention to Boniek Garcia. The Honduran midfielder is truly one of the best players in MLS.

– Jose de Jesus Ortiz

(The Dynamo’s Brad Davis, left, celebrates a goal with Boniek Garcia, right. All photos courtesy of the Houston Dynamo)

Probably Brad Davis, he is a fun player to watch and I think he’ll have a big impact on the game this Saturday.  Having him out of the final last year with an injury was one of the reasons I think we didn’t win.  But this year he is healthy and that will make all the difference.

– Adriana Perez

Rico Clark. Having missed out on previous Cups because of card accumulation and suspension he will hopefully make the most of this. But that’s sentimental. Will Bruin needs to find the back of the net for the Dynamo to have a chance.

– MIchael Bertin

Oscar Boniek Garcia. I have not seen a player play with his level of talent and enthusiasm since I started following MLS. I have a feeling he is going to do something spectacular in the City of Angels. 

– Eric Nordstrom

Brad Davis is the best player on the Houston Dynamo. He is a crafty player with the ball at his feet, and he can pass with great accuracy. Last year at this time he was injured. Houston qualified for MLS Cup 2011, but they lost, and he couldn’t play in it. This year Brad Davis might be the player who makes the difference for Houston.

– Dave Brett Wasser

7. David Beckham will apparently play his final MLS game Saturday–why is he such a big deal?

He can’t run. Can’t tackle. Can’t jump. Can’t run at people. If a disproportionate number of goals didn’t come from set pieces he would have been out of the game a couple of years ago. The lower level of play in MLS helped.

– Michael Bertin

Beckham transcends soccer. He is a heartthrob and a great ambassador. One of the best players in the world found it appealing to take on the challenge of turning soccer into a major sport in America, and that should tell you a little bit about his self confidence.

– Jose de Jesus Ortiz

As a Dynamo fan, I will probably roll my eyes at all press and hoopla that will overshadow the game because this is his last MLS game. There is no denying Beckham is a great player but I think there was WAY too much hope put on him to save MLS or to make soccer more popular here in the States.

– Adriana Perez

David Beckham has had an outstanding soccer career. He has wonderful poise and technical ability. But I what like most about David Beckham is the way he has carried himself off the field. He could have let the fame go to his head, but he didn’t. He is a good person, with good values. On the other hand, I am not going to pretend that his fame is all due to what he has achieved on the field. He became so famous in part because he is so good looking. But you can’t blame him for that!

– Dave Brett Wasser

He’s a great athlete. Beckham has played consistently at a high-level for 20 years, participating with some of the best clubs in the World (Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan), being twice a finalist for the FIFA World Player of the Year award (1999, 2001), and captaining the English National Team for almost six years in the early 2000’s. The free kicks he takes with his venomous right foot are as dangerous as anyone’s in the world. When teamed up with Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane in LA, Beckham makes his team a force to be reckoned with. These qualities, added to what he has done for MLS during the last 5 years in terms of exposure and relevance, make watching him one last time on Saturday a can’t-miss opportunity.

– Lester Gretsch

I can’t say Beckham is the first, but he is certainly the most transcendent figure in world football of the last two decades. He isn’t the best footballer of that time period by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s capitalized on his talent, stunning good looks, and tremendously effective PR machine to build one of the most massive brands ever in sports history. It’ll be fun to see him lose on Saturday. 

– Eric Nordstrom

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