CHESTER, Pa. (AP) – Starting the season on an eight-game road trip hasn't exactly been enjoyable for the Houston Dynamo, but every time they drove to and from Bush International Airport, the team saw an exciting reminder of what was coming.
The Dynamo's usual route to the airport goes right past the site of BBVA Compass Stadium, the team's new $80 million home. Because of that route, the team was able to watch the gradual construction of Major League Soccer's newest state-of-the-art facility.
"It was like watching your kid grow up," said Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall of all those bus rides past the stadium site. "From nothing to now it's a cool landmark in the city. It's something we're proud of. A cool looking stadium that's going to be a fun place to play for us."
BBVA Compass Stadium will host its first MLS match on Saturday, when Houston plays D.C. United. The match comes six years after the MLS club moved from San Jose to Houston, and renamed itself the Dynamo.
When the team formerly known as the Earthquakes moved to Texas, it was unclear what the future would hold for the players and coaches who also made the move. A pair of MLS championships helped ease the transition, but the missing piece to the puzzle was a soccer stadium that would allow the Dynamo to get out of the aging Robertson Stadium, a facility the team shared with the University of Houston football team.
On Saturday, a dream will come true. Not just for the thousands of Dynamo fans who will flood the stadium in a sea of orange, but for the players still around from the group that came from San Jose.
"Thinking back it was tough because were walking into something that we didn't know how it was going to be," said all-star midfielder Brad Davis. "We didn't know the facilities, or how the fans were going to be.
"The fans were great from the beginning, but we always heard about a stadium and never knew when it would come or if we'd still be around when it finally got here.
"We're glad it's here now," Davis added. "There have been guys who have moved on like Craig Waibel and Eddie Robinson. Guys like Dwayne DeRosario and Pat Onstad (key members of Houston's championship teams, who are both now with D.C. United) who are going to get to be there on Saturday so they'll be able to experience it."
"It took a little bit longer than anticipated but we're happy it's finally materializing," said Houston veteran Brian Ching. "The Houston community has embraced us tremendously. In part because of our success, and based on what guys have done in the community. It's pretty special to see the stadium being built and the amount of excitement that the city is showing for our team."
The reaction to the new facility has been an emphatic success. Ticket sales have skyrocketed, and the team's first three matches at BBVA Compass Stadium are already sold out. Houston has sold almost 12,000 season tickets, doubling the club's previous totals.
Now it will be up to the Dynamo to christen the facility with some victories. Just six months removed from playing in the 2011 MLS Cup Final, Houston will be hoping to become the latest MLS team to receive a big boost from a new stadium, as Sporting Kansas City did last year after opening Livestrong Sporting Park.
On Saturday, more than six years after an abrupt and uncertain move to Texas, the Dynamo will take the final step toward planting permanent roots in the city of Houston. BBVA Compass Stadium places a visible orange spot on the city's skyline, giving the team a home to be proud of and the city a well-deserved reward for embracing the Dynamo from the start.
Here is a look at this weekend's MLS action, with predictions and picks for this weekend's top matches:
LAST WEEK'S RECORD (4-5), SEASON RECORD (45-39)
The Montreal Impact delivered the biggest upset last week, knocking off Sporting KC, while the short-handed New York Red Bulls turned some heads with a win in LA. Vancouver made a statement with their victory against San Jose.
TOP FIVE MLS MATCHES
1- SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. REAL SALT LAKE
The Sounders are riding high on a five-match winning streak and have a chance to take first place in the West with a win against an RSL side that only recently got its full starting lineup together. The central midfield battle between Seattle's Osvaldo Alonso and Mauro Rosales against Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales makes this one a must-watch. Give the Sounders the slight edge because of the way their defense is playing. SOUNDERS 2, Real Salt Lake 1.
2- HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. D.C. UNITED
The opening of the new BBVA Compass Stadium will grab the headlines, but the on-field action in this one should also be noteworthy. The Dynamo have been slumping after a long road trip to start to the season, but should receive a major boost from their new home. D.C. United will make this a game and spoil Houston's party. Dynamo 2, D.C. United 2.
3- PHILADELPHIA vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS
The I-95 rivals renew acquaintances at PPL Park, where the Union are in desperate need of points and goals. Their offense has been dreadful and now they face a Red Bulls defense riding a three-game shutout streak. Fatigue could play a factor for New York, which should give Philadelphia the edge in a game the Union really need. UNION 1, Red Bulls 0.
4- CHICAGO FIRE vs. SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Sporting KC has gone from a record-setting juggernaut to a team that hasn't won a match in nearly a month. They face a Fire side that has an inconsistent offense but improving defense. Chicago hasn't been particularly tough to beat at home in years, and Sporting KC should be able to win the battle in midfield. Graham Zusi leads the way. Fire 0, SPORTING KC 2.
5- NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
The Whitecaps should be the clear favorites here but New England has been tougher at home and have a forward in Saer Sene who could cause the Whitecaps some problems. Vancouver has the attacking weapons to trouble New England though, and should knock off the Revs at home. Revolution 1, WHITECAPS 2.