HOUSTON – It has been a week and a half since the Houston Dynamo last played at BBVA Compass Stadium. The scoreless draw against Sporting Kansas City came on a field complete with American football lines and a bumpy surface.
As the Dynamo prepare for a game that could potentially clinch a playoff berth on Sunday, that same field will present a challenge as the club faces the New York Red Bulls (4 pm ET, UniMas).
“It’s not ideal,” said Houston captain Brad Davis. “We don’t complain about it too much, but it definitely plays a role. Hopefully it’s something we can address and take care of because something definitely needs to be done.”
The hard, bumpy surface makes ball control a challenge -- “You have to concentrate on your first touch," said manager Dominic Kinnear -- and Davis points out the impact it has on the flow of the game, especially for Houston and New York teams that would rather play the ball on the ground. But both sides will have to be ready for more of a long-ball style on Sunday.
“I’m sure other teams find it tough to get the ball down and play good soccer,” Davis said of the surface. “It kind of forces the game to get a little choppy, a little ugly, a little direct; but you’ve got to adapt to those situations.”
The field at BBVA Compass Stadium is maintained by the facility's staff, which oversees all aspects, including regular upkeep and transforming the field between two sports -- soccer and college football. Needless to say, there are challenges that come with managing multiple sports on a natural grass surface in Houston's climate.
“Maintaining the pitch is obviously more difficult when both college football and soccer seasons overlap,” Doug Hall, general manager of BBVA Compass Stadium, said in a statement to MLSsoccer.com. “Additionally, as the weather gets cooler, Bermuda grass stops growing like it does during the summer. With those factors in play, our top priority is the playability of the field, which is still very solid.”
Heading into the weekend clash with the Red Bulls, three college football games will have taken place on the field since the Dynamo last played, including one held 24 hours before the MLS match on Saturday.
While housing college football at BBVA makes it that much tougher to keep the field in top shape, the multi-event use of the facility was a requirement to get the stadium built in the first place.
Nonetheless, the condition of the field continues to be a point of discussion. For the Dynamo's players, the hard pitch can cause strain on their legs as well as making the game tougher to control.
“It hurts my ankles,” said Houston forward Will Bruin. “The ball’s a lot bouncier and the field is chopped up from all the football and there are lines out there. The field is choppy and hard, but both teams got to play on it.”
Bruin and the Dynamo will already have their hands full as it is on Sunday when they face a New York team against which they have historically struggled. In fact, Houston have won just three games in 17 all-time meetings against New York, and the Red Bulls beat them 4-1 at BBVA Compass Stadium in their last meeting on September 4.
“Definitely with Mike Petke coming in as a coach they’ve definitely had a bit of a change in mentality,” Davis said. “They’ve always had good players, but I don’t know that they played as a team a few years back. This year they seem to have come together and have a heck of a lot of talent.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @DarrellLovell.