When the Houston Dynamo walk onto BBVA Compass Field on Saturday night to face D.C. United in front of 22,000 fans (4:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)—it spells a new challenge for the Dynamo and caps a journey that started in San Jose.
It's also another big step for Major League Soccer as Houston becomes another team with its own place to call home.
When the Dynamo moved from San Jose to Houston in 2005, it was because AEG, the team's principle owners, couldn't secure a stadium location. So the team moved to Houston and called Robertson Stadium at the University of Houston home.
In its first season in Houston, the Dynamo won the 2006 MLS Cup, beating the New England Revolution 4-3.
Even though the Dynamo were hugely successful after moving from San Jose, it still took six years for Houston to build a stadium—which is even more of a feat considering the new stadium was the reason for the move.
Now, the team has a brand new, state-of-the-art stadium to show off, which is located next to the Toyota Center and Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston. The stadium is another sign that Major League Soccer is pushing its way into the mainstream and that it's getting the recognition it deserves.
Now, people and cities are willing to support the league's long-term projects.
The Dynamo's $95 million mansion brings the total number of MLS soccer-specific stadiums—renovated or new—to 15 for the league's 19 teams.
Just 10 years ago, when the league was floundering, a soccer-specific stadium like BBVA Compass Field in Houston would never have been imagined—let alone actually getting built. Teams were trying to stay alive; they weren't looking to expand or work on large-scale public projects.
Today, even the teams without soccer stadiums seek to find funding because they're being left behind. Newly catered soccer-specific facilities are now demanded by fans.
One of the teams still in search of a new stadium is the New England Revolution.
The Revolution have a home at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, but the large football stadium, located 40 minutes outside of Boston, isn't drawing fans. And the location certainly isn't conducive to creating an atmosphere fans want to watch a match.
The team's president Brian Billelo knows that. He's addressed the question every year I've covered the team. He answered it again this year, during a conference call with reporters on November 9:
"It’s our No. 1 priority that we’re working hard on. It’s obviously been a big challenge for us, but something that we emphatically want to see happen and want to make happen. In terms of on the team side, there’s a lot of different projects I’m going to be working on with Michael [Burns] to turn that around and improve that immediately. On the business side, that is [the] No. 1, 2 and 3 priority for us."
It took Houston years to get all the answers and funding. It has taken New England just as long to get started.
But there are other hurdles New England needs to climb before something like BBVA Compass Field, Red Bull Arena or PPL Park will become a reality in New England. (D.C. United is also going through a similar situation, and rumors have surfaced that the team might move to Baltimore.)
New England, like D.C. United, is actively seeking a new home like Houston was a few seasons ago, and the Dynamo's new home in downtown is a good sign for teams looking for new urban stadiums.
If those teams can secure deals, it will be another giant leap for MLS. If they can't, it might be time to think like the Dynamo and find a place with fans and the money to build a new stadium.
Houston, which has been a blueprint franchise on the field for years, now becomes another blue print franchise off the field.
The Dynamo are a team that has stamped out its spot in a city's landscape, and BBVA Field is another sign that MLS continues to move forward.