Back in 2006 — a Keeper Notes recap

photo by Sushi Suzuki

In December 2005, the city of Houston and its soccer fans received an early, unexpected Christmas gift … an MLS franchise. The league decided to move the San Jose Earthquakes to Houston for 2006 – making the announcement less than four months from the start of the season. The newly christened Dynamo took the city and the league by storm, winning the 2006 MLS Cup (and the 2007 Cup too). Below is a previously unpublished article I wrote for the short-lived Houston Sports Monthly magazine in 2007 about my memories of that magical Dynamo inaugural season. – Jen Cooper

That’s right, you’re not from Texas
Being a native Houstonian and soccer maven of sorts, I happily volunteered my time last January to helping some of the former Quakes get acclimated to their new hometown — meeting them at the airport, giving tours of the city, answering questions, explaining how excited local soccer fans were to finally have a team here. Craig Waibel’s first question was “Is there golf?” Dwayne DeRosario’s only concern: “Are there vegetarian restaurants?”

Houston, we have a …
On January 25 the original name of the team — Houston 1836 — was announced at a press conference featuring MLS execs, orange & black balloons, lots of screaming Lanier Middle School students and an introduction by Councilman Adrian Garcia in both English and Spanish. Okay, so “1836” didn’t work out very well, for a variety of reasons. But the team regrouped (as all great soccer teams do) and came up with “Dynamo,” a reference to both the city’s energy industry and the semi-pro team from the ’80s. You have to admit, the name turned out to be perfect for chanting.

Orange crush
The team jersey was unveiled at Kicks Indoor in late March. I confess I had never been a big fan of the color orange, but the retro-Astro orange of the Dynamo jersey is downright snazzy. The uniforms look great on TV, and team Tshirts are easy to spot in a crowd. And doesn’t the light blue of the logo look just like Oiler blue?

The weather was good, the orange rally towels were waving and despite a few issues at will call, on April 2 the Dynamo was ready to launch. Soccer fans who had been waiting years to have a professional soccer team were finally rewarded. And what a reward! Brian Ching scored four goals in a row, and a bicycle-kick goal from Alejandro Moreno in stoppage time gave fans one more reason to love their new hometown team.

And the fourth striker is …
Where were you at 5:30 pm on May 2? Hopefully watching Sports Center to see the live announcement of Brian Ching making the 2006 World Cup roster. Sure, it meant we’d lose him for several home games, but it was cool nonetheless. (And maybe the next U.S. coach will be wise enough to play him!)

Now that’s love
The Dynamo played its first game against the Galaxy in L.A. on June 3, and on TV it was hard to miss all the blue Earthquakes jerseys in the stands. You gotta give those Bay Area fans props for keeping their soccer dream alive.

Neither sleet nor snow nor rain …
There’s a reason Houston is the only city in the world with two retractable-roof stadiums (and Robertson Stadium ain’t one of them). As the relentlessly humid summer worn on, I was impressed by the fans that came early and stayed til the end — especially for the two afternoon games. And despite a 45-minute lightning delay on July 8, fans loyally waited around to watch the Dynamo demolish Chivas USA 3-1.

Local hero
Awty International School alum Stuart Holden scored his first MLS goal to tie the game against the New England Revolution on July 22, just moments after coming on as a second-half sub. It was a beautiful low shot inside the left post, off a feed from Moreno.

O capitán, my capitán
We owned Dallas this season, and now we own that cannon — El Capitán, that is, the 18th century Mountain Howitzer which serves as the trophy for the “Texas Derby,” the 4-game regular-season series. The Dynamo beat Dallas 4-3 at home on May 13, then held off the Hoops for a 1-1 tie the following weekend. On August 12 the Dynamo defeated Dallas 1-0 to clinch ownership of El Capitán for 2007. 

Big defeat for the Big D
We also had the pleasure of watching the Dynamo dismantle Dallas in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal a few weeks later at UH’s Carl Lewis Field. I especially enjoyed the group of Dallas fans chanting “You WISH you HAD a STADIUM”  as the Dynamo took the field. Yes, we do. And your point is?

Only shooting stars break the mold
The World Cup wasn’t an option for Dwayne De Rosario, so De Ro made the All-Star Game his personal version of the tournament. He scored the winning goal against English Premiership champion Chelsea FC, and earned MVP honors as well.

Bald guys do it better
Defender Craig Waibel (who should have been nominated for MLS Comeback Player of the Year) scored a career-high 5 goals, and late-summer addition Paul Dalglish adjusted nicely to the Houston humidity and put a few in the back of the net as well. 

Hail Mary
Every keeper’s nightmare … a floating chip from distance that catches him out of position and finds the net. De Ro’s 55-yard surprise in Chicago on August 30 took our breath away, and easily qualified for one of the MLS goals of the year.

It ain’t over til it’s over
This is why you never a soccer match til the final whistle: on September 30, the Big Kahuna (aka Brian Ching) broke a 0-0 tie against DC United with an 86th minute bicycle-kick goal. The win earned the Dynamo a spot in the playoffs.

Brave hearts
With two Scots on the team (Paul Dalglish and assistant coach John Spencer), plus Scotland-born Stuart Holden and head coach Dominic Kinnear, the Dynamo definitely has a Scottish flavor (and thankfully it doesn’t taste like haggis). The October 29 playoff game featured a highlight video mixed with Mel Gibson’s battle speech from Braveheart, and a bagpiper led our players onto the field. And just so you know, General Sam Houston’s ancestry was Scottish on both sides.

Using their heads
With a brilliant cross, flick and jumping header, the Dynamo clinched a berth in the Western Conference final with mere seconds left in the game. The cross came from De Ro, the head flick from Eddie Robinson and the header from the Big Chingy. Hollywood couldn’t have scripted it better. And for a touch of class, the players returned to the field after the game to applaud the fans. 

One step closer
With their playoff beards growing thicker and longer, the Dynamo crushed the Colorado Rapids 3-1 in the Western Conference final with two strikes from Paul Dalglish and a bullet from Brian Mullan. The win earned the “new” team a berth in the 2006 MLS Cup against the New England Revolution.

We gotta great big convoy
With the Cup just a few hours’ drive up I-45 in Frisco north of Dallas, the Dynamo organized a convoy of more than 250 cars and provided seven charter buses for fans. “Mattress Mac” of Gallery Furniture generously provided free orange Tshirts, decorations for cars and coffee & donuts for everyone who showed up at 6:30 am to start lining up their cars. At the other end of the drive was a free tailgate cookout sponsored by El Toro Restaurants.

Houston, we have a championship
A mostly orange, sold-out stadium in North Texas and a brilliant orange afternoon sky. A scoreless game for 90 minutes. A strike from New England’s Taylor Twellman. And less than a minute later, a blazing header from Brian Ching to tie the game. The first MLS championship decided by penalties … and Pat Onstad’s save on the final kick. Yee-haw!

And then there was 2007
How long will Houston be able to hold on to De Rosario? Will progress be made on a soccer-specific stadium? What will the 2007 jersey look like? Can we make fun of Canadians when expansion team Toronto FC comes to town? I hope you’ve already bought your season tickets … it’s sure to be another great ride.

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