What passed, barely, for a soccer field has to be the most convincing argument ever as to why teams need control of their own facilities. At least if the surface is a mess it's the team's fault and no one else's.
I mean, c'mon. Barren, grassless swathes near one touchline casting an ugly brown blotch? Sand in clumps and mounds running down the center of field deadening passes and forcing slips and stumbles? Sometimes the play in MLS can be hard on the eyes, but this time the field itself, not the action taking place, rated as unwatchable and nearly unplayable.
Faint vestiges of football lines and markings stained the field with a bizarre array of barely recognizable shapes and colors, like tattoos inked decades ago. Little puffs of dirt kicked up when foot met ball, and passes played along the ground - of which there was at least as much as what passed for grass - wobbled or bounced more than they rolled. That the teams managed to connect passes and build attacks through combination play is a testament to their persistence as much as skill on the ball.
I can't imagine the University of Houston football team can be happy with such an abysmal surface, either. When the Dynamo moved from San Jose at the end of 2005, only some strong lobbying by team president Oliver Luck and the late Doug Hamilton, who was facilitating the move on behalf of Anschutz Entertainment Group, prevented the university from installing artificial turf. While that issue hasn't been revisited, it is always a possibility.
In the first leg, Qwest Field's surface, scrubbed clean of football lines and markings, looked and played much better than did Robertson's dead zone. The difficulty of keeping a grass field alive and healthy when it is chewed up regularly by football games increases as the days shorten and temperatures decrease, especially in Houston, whose blistering hot months present a very different challenge for groundskeepers.
Any stadium deal needs political and community backing, solid financing, sound planning (including location), and years of hard work to be consummated. Luck's attempts have been derailed by political snafus and the opposition of outgoing Mayor Bill White, who blocked use of any public monies.
The All-Star Game is headed to Houston and Reliant Stadium next year. AEG's ownership has been joined by a high-profile consortium led by champion boxer Oscar de la Hoya. Political changes are in the offing with a mayoral runoff election between city controller Annise Parker and former city attorney Gene Locke to be held after neither received 50 percent of the vote in elections held last week.
A nice facility with a pristine field is more than a pretty face to be admired. It gives a team stature and an identity, as well as a firm financial foundation. As at least a few teams have demonstrated, it's no guarantee of success either at the gate or in the standings. Playing as a tenant in a college football stadium, the Dynamo has attained both.
But, so far, leaving an untenable situation in San Jose has merely been traded for another unfortunate alternative. In 2010, Houston desperately needs to get on the right path. The organization and its fans - 27,465 showed up Sunday and generated a colorful, noisy atmosphere -- have proved, again, they deserve a home of their own.