As the Best of 2012 series continues on MLSsoccer.com, we're counting down the 12 most important stories of the year in Major League Soccer. We'll take a look at one story per day from Dec. 19 until Dec. 30, when we unveil what our panel of 20 editors, writers, videographers and statistics specialists voted as the Story of the Year in MLS in 2012.
Senior editor Nick Firchau starts off the countdown with a look at No. 12 on the list: the opening of BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
It wasn’t particularly hot in Houston on May 12, if you’re familiar with how unbearable it can be when the summer really starts cooking down in Texas. By those standards, 82 degrees for a mid-afternoon kickoff is a downright pleasant forecast, and it’s a damn fine way to spend an afternoon.
Nobody bothered to tell that to the group of D.C. United players, however, who gathered in the visitors’ locker room after the inaugural match at BBVA Compass Stadium this year and wondered when exactly someone turned up the heat.
As it turned out, every team that strolled into the Dynamo’s new digs this season wondered the same thing. It wasn’t hell, but it wasn’t far off. It was an oven.
by Brad Davis
The First Goal
at BBVA Compass Stadium
To be totally honest, I wanted Chingy to score the first goal. That’s the only way I would rewrite that whole thing. There was so much emotion and so much anticipation surrounding that game, that would have been the icing on the cake. But to actually have it fall the way it did, and for me to score the first goal, that was surreal.
It was hot as hell out there and we were trying to celebrate in the locker room after the game, but in Houston you’re just trying to suck down as much water and as much Gatorade as possible. Dominic congratulated us and he came over and then he was kind of funny, he said, "And oh yeah, Brad, congratulations." He blew it off in typical Dom style, because he’s always a team-first guy.
The celebration was my moment and my team’s moment, but it was for the fans. They’d been with us since Day 1. They’d been going down to Robertson Stadium and they supported us there, and they wanted all this just as bad as we wanted it. The place absolutely went nuts, and after the dust settled on that goal. … I still get chills thinking about walking back after that goal. I’ll never forget that.
Finally fitted with a sparkling soccer-specific stadium after six years in limbo at nearby Robertson Stadium, the Dynamo were absolutely dominant on their home turf after that cathartic 1-0 win over D.C. in early May. They outscored their opponents 31-12 during the regular season and became just the fourth team in league history to finish the season unbeaten at home (11-0-6), and then they added two more victories there in the playoffs: a suffocating win over Kansas City in the Eastern Conference semifinals and a come-from-behind win over D.C. United that effectively propelled them into the MLS Cup.
Of course the Dynamo had played in heat before – it’s always been a not-so-secret weapon since the MLS Cup runs in 2006 and 2007 – but this was different.
This was more than 22,000 fans glistening in the summer sun. This was monuments throughout the stadium honoring Houston heroes of the past. This was a field practically hand-tailored by head coach Dominic Kinnear, 70 yards wide by 115 long. This was David Beckham begging the schedule-makers for mercy. This was everything – everything! – covered in orange.
This was exactly the way the Dynamo had always dreamed it up.
As for the inaugural match itself, the one moment that will live in club lore is that blistering strike in the 67th minute from midfielder Brad Davis, who had never played a home match in a soccer-specific stadium in his career. Striker Brian Ching drew the bulk of the headlines before the match, but it was Davis who finally got the glory, beating United goalkeeper Bill Hamid with a shot that even Davis later admitted he knew was “headed for the upper corner.”
The celebration was perfect. Davis promptly raced with arms outstretched into the embrace of Houston’s hardy supporters sitting just past the end line barriers, and disappeared into a sea of orange, sweat and euphoria.
“We’ve been waiting for this for such a long time,” Kinnear said. “I didn’t have any expectations. All mine were wants today. It was just all wants, and what I wanted today was, thankfully, granted.”