When the Houston Dynamo opened its new 22,000-seat soccer home, BBVA Compass Stadium, with a 1--0 victory over D.C. United last Saturday, it marked yet another step in the maturation of Major League Soccer. The 16-year-old league has grown from 12 to 19 teams since 2006, and by this summer, when Saputo Stadium opens in Montreal, all but four franchises will be playing in venues designed or refurbished with soccer as a top priority. The result: More MLS games now actually feel major league, a vibe that was aided in Houston last week by a raucous sellout crowd that included NFL No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck, whose father, Oliver, helped get the stadium built as the Dynamo's former team president.
Houston's $95 million venue, for which ownership footed $60 million of the bill, isn't the ritziest of MLS's facilities, which include Sporting Kansas City's Livestrong Sporting Park and New York's Red Bull Arena. (Each cost $200 million.) But BBVA Compass has plenty of attractive features: seating that's close to the field, including 33 luxury suites fewer than 10 rows up; a mesh exterior that will help on hot summer days; a striking all-orange motif to represent one of the league's best-branded clubs; and, importantly, an urban location near the Toyota Center and Minute Maid Park that's a departure from MLS stadiums in the suburbs and exurbs of Chicago, Dallas and Denver.
Now the fun part—the soccer—begins after 15 months of stadium construction. The Dynamo has long been one of MLS's better teams, winning titles in 2006 and '07 and reaching last year's final. With top players in midfielder Brad Davis (whose 30-yard left-footed rocket gave the new stadium a worthy first goal), defender Geoff Cameron and forward Brian Ching, Houston should challenge again for the Eastern crown. For MLS as a whole, the dream of creating a vibrant atmosphere throughout the league, in real soccer stadiums, is close to being realized.