It's official: the San Jose Earthquakes of MLS are coming to Houston.
Major League Soccer announced Thursday that the Anschutz Entertainment Group will relocate its Earthquakes franchise from San Jose, Calif., to Houston, less than four months before the start of the 2006 season.
"The move is effective immediately, and all players and coaching staff currently under contract will transfer to Houston as part of the new team," MLS commissioner Don Garber said Thursday.
AEG will make the official announcement at 10 a.m. today outside City Hall. Mayor Bill White, members of City Council and other city and county officials are scheduled to welcome the team, which will be renamed in a contest. Among those expected to attend are AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke and team coach Dominic Kinnear.
MLS officials declined to speculate on where the team will play next season, although all signs point to the University of Houston's Robertson Stadium.
AEG did not return calls or e-mails requesting comment.
University of Houston athletic director Dave Maggard, who has held talks with the franchise's owners in the months leading to the move, also would not say whether Robertson will house the franchise on a temporary basis.
"There's a possibility," Maggard said.
MLS has said it expects to have a plan for a soccer-specific stadium in Houston carved out in the near future. Although nothing is concrete, Garber has said he would seek a public-private partnership in the building of a venue. Such a partnership would be similar to the one forged in Frisco with the city, school district and team owner Hunt Sports for Pizza Hut Park, home of FC Dallas.
If this "public-private partnership" is the plan, then it's a matter of the details. How much is the CIty of Houston being asked to put up, and what tangible benefit will it get in return for that? I'm willing to wait and see what that might mean, and in the meantime I'd love to get some feedback from folks in the Dallas area about the partnership-built stadium there.
Assuming there's a plan for a stadium that enough people can accept, where would it be built? John Lopez stumps for downtown.
If this franchise is going to survive and thrive, it must find a home downtown, near Minute Maid Park or on the north side of downtown. There is city and county land available in both those areas and the development all around downtown shows the power of downtown venues.
If the game is going to pique interest in casual fans and cross over into corporate Houston, the stadium must be easy to get to and within walking distance of Houston's downtown.
This is the formula that has doubled interest in the Astros in recent years.
The last thing that should happen is the eventual home stadium being put somewhere other than the heart of the local sports world. Robertson Stadium will be fine in the short term, but the longer the franchise calls Robertson home, the more industrious fans will have to become to fill it.
If the stadium is erected out where the deer and the soccer moms play — in Katy, Sugar Land, Kingwood, The Woodlands — it would limit the audience to a thin slice. Sticking it in a so-called "Hispanic" part of town would be economic disaster for the club. The Hispanic part of town, after all, is a nice way of saying barrio. Hispanics are all over town, just like soccer fans and soccer moms.
That said, downtown does have a lot of appeal. The main question would be how expensive that would make it, since the land around there isn't cheap. Perhaps the city's contribution to the public-private partnership could be to just donate some unused property for the stadium. I could live with that.
Last but not least:
The company also will unveil a team-naming contest for the franchise. The league has retained the Earthquakes name, colors and logo for use by an expansion team in the Bay Area.