The City of Houston on Friday officially welcomed its new Major League Soccer team in a ceremony which featured Mayor Bill White, AEG President and CEO Timothy J. Leiweke joining the players and head coach of the new club. On Thursday, December 15, AEG and MLS announced today that the city of Houston was selected as the new home of the San Jose Earthquakes.
"If you look at the games that we, through Soccer United Marketing, have staged with the Texans in Houston, we have been unbelievably successful. We expect to continue this success," Leiweke said. "We have been provided with several fantastic opportunities in a game-proven environment that we will never take for granted. We have already been approached by a half dozen potential partners which, quite frankly, is more than we were able to accomplish in three years in San Jose. We are already well on our way to building an infrastructure that will tie us to the community for years to come."
Shawn Hunter, President, AEG Sports announced at the press conference that The Home Depot has already committed to a multi-year sponsorship agreement, thus becoming the team's first official founding partner. Hunter commented, "We are so fortunate and proud to be able to announce a partnership for our Houston club with The Home Depot. This is an organization that consistently demonstrates its commitment of giving back to the communities where they do business and where their customers and employees live."
Hunter also named long-time Harris County Houston Sports Authority CEO Oliver Luck as the team's first President. "Having the opportunity to hire someone with such strong ties to the community and the sports world, with an impeccable reputation as Oliver has was an opportunity we could not pass up. He is clearly a tremendous asset for our organization and one that will help ensure a successful launch for the club as well as a bright future."
Luck announced that $50 deposits for season tickets are currently being accepted online at www.MLSinHouston06.com or by phone at (866) 502-6326. In addition, the new home for the MLS team in Houston was unveiled as it will play its complete 16-game home schedule at Robertson Stadium on the campus of the University of Houston, a facility which has hosted several major soccer events in its history. The 2006 MLS season, the 11th in League history, will kick off on April 1.
"Over the years, Houston has earned the reputation of being a great soccer market - both in the estimation of players who have performed here as well as to team executives, media and fans who have attended or promoted games throughout the world including this City," said Leiweke. "We immediately inherit a great facility at the University of Houston, Robertson Stadium and a fan base who have longed for a 'home team' for Houston. We are bringing the league's best team with the league's best coach with a commitment that Houston is a long-term priority."
It was also announced on Friday that the name of the new club will be determined in early January at the conclusion of a selection process that will seek feedback of the community on a list of possible monikers for the club, which will be released in the coming days. The name, colors and competition records of the Earthquakes have been retained by MLS for a future expansion team in the Bay Area and will not carry over to the Houston club.
MLS Coach of the Year Dominic Kinnear, captain Wade Barrett and 2005 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Pat Onstad were also present at the City Hall event on Friday. All Earthquakes players and members of the coaching staff currently under contract will transfer to Houston as part of the new organization. The team will retain its current roster of players, featuring MLS All-Stars and international players including U.S. National Team forward Brian Ching, Venezuelan forward Alejandro Moreno and Canadian midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, a finalist for 2005 MLS Honda MVP honors. The club will add new players at the MLS SuperDraft to be held in Philadelphia on January 20, 2006.
The two-time MLS Cup champion Earthquakes (2001, 2003) made MLS history in 2005 when it became the only club to ever go an entire season unbeaten at home (9-0-7). Under the leadership of Kinnear, the Earthquakes won the 2005 MLS Supporters Shield with 64 points, the second-highest point total in MLS history.
The fourth largest city in the United States based on population and one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the country, Houston was ranked the fourth best sports city in the United States by the Sporting News in 2004. The city also features the fifth largest Hispanic population in the nation with 1.4 million Hispanics representing the most of any city in Texas. In addition, Houston is also a young city with the lowest median age of the nation's major metro areas. One of the country's youth soccer hotbeds, 50,000 of the 110,000 registered youth players in South Texas come from Houston.
"Houston is a proven soccer market with a passionate, knowledgeable and diverse fan base," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. "With positive discussions for a new, soccer-specific stadium along with talks with potential investors, the market provides the team, and its owner AEG, the opportunity for success both on and off the field."