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Houston heading forward
by Ridge Mahoney, January 14th, 2008 1PM

TAGS:  mls


With two championships in tow, the Houston Dynamo organization could be forgiven for sitting still, even a bit.

Nothing of the sort is occurring. The political process to build a stadium for the team is forging ahead and a possible buyer has emerged.

Coach Dominic Kinnear has signed an extension to his contract after San Jose officials were denied permission to talk to him. Assistant coach John Spencer interviewed for the Chicago job but turned it down, and he and Kinnear are at the MLS Combine preparing for the SuperDraft, where they might find a replacement for defender Ryan Cochrane, who was claimed by San Jose in the expansion draft.

No replacement is needed for slashing midfielder Brian Mullan, who has signed a new contract. He might have been a target to return to San Jose as well, but he and his wife Kersten had their first child soon after the club relocated and like many of the players, have settled into the city and enjoyed the support of a fan base that sold out Roberston Stadium for both home playoff games last year (30,088 and 30,992).

"Brian Mullan's wife wasn't able to get out here for a while and that could have weighed on his mind, too," said forward Brian Ching, whose own wife also stayed behind to finish pharmacy school. "Now they're finally settled in and squared away."

Efforts to get a stadium deal squared away have cleared another hurdle. Only executives at Anschutz Entertainment Group know for sure, but a plot of land near Minute Maid Park - home of the Houston Astros baseball team - has been envisioned by AEG as a possible site for a soccer-specific stadium longer than the Dynamo has been in existence.

Originally, a high school complex north of the city had been proposed as the team's short-term home, but team president Oliver Luck and the late Doug Hamilton, who was AEG's point man on the move to Houston, lobbied hard for Robertson Stadium.

Last week, Houston city officials signed letters of intent to buy parcels of land southeast of Minute Maid Park and near the downtown business district. Mayor Bill White has confirmed this move is a major step toward acquiring property that could house a stadium for the Dynamo, which since leaving San Jose after the 2005 season is two-for-two in winning championships. The city could lease the land to the team's owners and the project's developers.

Discussions regarding a 22,000-seat stadium were initiated last spring among representatives of the city, the team, and AEG.

Recently, news surfaced that a group led by boxer Oscar De La Hoya has expressed interest in purchasing the team and has begun researching the franchise, the league, and the proposed stadium project.

While expressing his approval for a stadium, White has refused to commit any public money toward construction of the stadium. The cost is estimated at between $70 million and $80 million.

Other facilities built recently in Houston - Reliant Arena (NFL Texans), Toyota Center (NBA Rockets, minor league hockey) and Minute Maid Park - drew a hefty percentage of their funding from public sources, but White is making no such commitment to the Dynamo and AEG.

If no suitable stadium project is approved, the city can do what it wants with the land, but at least some public sentiment is lined up next to the Dynamo. Newspaper and broadcast coverage has far exceeded what the team attained in San Jose and while the Clash/Quakes had a rabid and modest-sized local following no viable stadium proposal gained steam.

In a few years, both teams might have their own place to play; operator-investor Lewis Wolff is implementing a plan to build a stadium near San Jose International Airport. San Jose will play at Buck Shaw Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University for the next three seasons.

"It's just great that San Jose is getting a team," said Kinnear last November, shortly before the Dynamo beat New England, 2-1, in MLS Cup 2007. "I hear they have a stadium plan and hopefully we'll have one too, although playing at Robertston has been fantastic. It reminds me a little bit of Spartan [Stadium]; the field is kind of narrow and when the place gets full or close to it, it really gets loud.

"It helps when you win, of course, but we have a good team and good fans. The final piece is the stadium, and hopefully that can be worked out."


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