Saturday’s match between the Dynamo and Toronto FC at BBVA Compass Stadium (TICKETS) will bring together more than 40 former players, coaches and team officials from the five professional soccer teams that preceded the Dynamo in Houston. The reunion will include a halftime tribute on Saturday as well as a few pregame outings for the former teammates and new friends that share the experience of soccer in Houston.
The paths the players took to Houston from 1967-2000 were as varied as the leagues themselves. For many young American players, the teams provided a chance for play soccer in new leagues and live the dream of a professional player. For others with professional experience in Europe or South America, the young leagues in North America were a new frontier.
To uncover the history of professional soccer history in Houston, we sought the input of two former players who came to Houston to play professional soccer in 1984 and remain in the city today: Bill McDonald and Glenn Davis. McDonald is now the Assistant Athletic Director for Strake Jesuit College Preparatory school in Houston. Davis is in his 11th year as a Dynamo television broadcaster after over a decade as a coach in Houston’s youth soccer scene.
For the 1984 Houston Dynamos, several players arrived from Allentown, Pennsylvania via the Pennsylvania Stoners (short for Keystone, as in the Keystone state), of the American Soccer League.
“The (Stoners) did very well, eventually losing to the Jacksonville Tea Men in the championship game,” McDonald remembers. “Unfortunately, the team folded after the season as many soccer teams and leagues were doing in those days. The assistant coach for that team, Gary Hindley got the head coaching job here in Houston. Glenn Davis, and a few other players on that team like Tony Johnson, Solomon Hilton, Juan Yepez and I all came down to Houston in April of 1984 to try out for this new team called the Houston Dynamos.”
“Hindley got the head coaching job and brought a few of us with him, like Lesh Shkreli, Tony Johnson, Bill McDonald, Juan Yepez and Mike Barbarick,” Davis said. “I came with one bag expecting people to be riding horses and wearing cowboy hats. Houston was a very different city in 1984. What did strike me was how welcoming people were and that the city was one where if you worked hard you could achieve.”
“I wanted to continue to pursue a pro career, but there were not many opportunities,” McDonald said. “I heard about Houston, and jumped at the chance to continue playing pro soccer. I never knew I would be playing in such summer heat and humidity, but it didn't matter because I was playing!”
Professional soccer in Houston began with the Houston Stars, who played at the Astrodome from 1967-68 in the United Soccer Association and North American Soccer League. The Stars featured Greek midfielder Billy Psifidis, who was a big part of Aris FC in Greece before joining the Stars in 1968 and later, the Dallas Tornado (North American Soccer League) in 1972.
“I did not know much about the Stars, until many years after the Dynamos when I continued playing in local men's soccer leagues here in Houston,” McDonald said. “Invariably, I would run into a Greek international player who lived here named Vsilly "Billy" Psfidis. He was probably the Stars best player. He continued in the game of soccer here in Houston by coaching teams and teaching players the game. He also refereed. I struck up a friendship with Billy, and he talked about the Stars.”
“I have a great friend from that team, Billy Psifidas, who did amazing work with youth and the soccer community,” Davis said. “Think about that. Those teams playing at that time (in the NASL) pre-dated the Sounders in Seattle.”
Next, two teams called Space City home from 1978-80, as indoor soccer rivaled the outdoor game. The Houston Hurricane played outdoor soccer in the NASL and the Houston Summit competed in the Major Indoor Soccer League. The Hurricane played at the Astrodome while the Summit played at The Summit, the former home of the Houston Rockets. Many players played on both teams during the three-year run in Houston.
Featuring colors of red, white and orange—like today’s Dynamo—the Hurricane won the NASL’s Central Division of the American Conference in its second season. The Hurricane featured English defender Stuart Jump, who spent three years in the Bayou City and also played for the Summit, and forward Kyle Rote Jr., who led the NASL in scoring with the Tornado in 1973 and played his final pro season in Houston before retiring.
“The Hurricane played against Pele (with the New York Cosmos) in the Dome and had many great names that played under Timo Liekoski, their manager,” Davis said. “Kyle Rote Jr., Kai Haaskivi and Stewart Jump among them.”
Haaskivi, a Finland national team forward, starred for the Summit as part of a long NASL career that also included stops in Dallas and Edmonton.
“I was not in Houston to see the Stars, Hurricane, and Summit, but I was following the leagues and going to games in Philadelphia, New York, and other cities,” McDonald said. “Huge credit goes to the owners, general managers, and others that forged through the tough times and made teams in Houston that were successful!”
The five predecessors to the current Dynamo entered a sports environment in Texas that had varying levels of soccer interest.
“(It was) a time where Houston was a little behind a lot of other cities when it came to soccer,” McDonald said. “Most people in Houston were not raised on soccer, and had never played. There was little high school soccer going on in the 70s and 80s, and besides HBU and SMU, Texas had no other college soccer opportunities for players trying to make it. There were a few other groups that tried to create a new Houston pro soccer team, but for whatever reason were not able to make it. But these teams that made it here entertained those that followed soccer, went to the playoffs in almost all seasons, and had star players that loved to play in front of the fans.”
Professional soccer returned in 1984 with the Dynamos, who competed in the United Soccer League and played at Butler Stadium and Delmar Stadium. Brazilian forward José Neto won the USL MSP in 1984 after scoring 22 goals. The Dynamos had four USL All-Stars in 1984: Walt Schlothauer, Tony Johnson, Davis and Neto. In the USL Playoffs, the Dynamos beat the Dallas Americans and Oklahoma City Stampede before falling to the Fort Lauderdale Sun in the championship series.
Finally, the Houston Hotshots played in the Continental Indoor Soccer League/World Indoor Soccer League from 1994-2000 at The Summit. The Hotshots featured English midfielder Paul Dougherty and Ato Leono and produced some fervent atmospheres.
“In my experience, the greatest [popularity among Houston’s old pro teams] was when the Hotshots were in the playoffs at the Summit,” McDonald said. “The crowds were huge, and when indoor goals were scored that place exploded! There were many more goals scored indoors, so that was often. And now, all of that has been surpassed by the Houston Dynamo. I was fortunate to be in the stadiums when they raised both MLS Cups, and that was fantastic!”
From 2000 to 2005, Houston did not field a professional team. But several huge crowds for international soccer matches raised the city’s soccer profile, and with its diverse demographics and a fast-growing population, Houston seemed a great fit for an MLS team, and the Dynamo arrived from San Jose, California for the 2006 season.
“Not having a pro soccer team to support and watch was a lot like when the Oilers went to Tennessee,” McDonald recalls. “There was a void, nowhere to go. MLS was coming into its own, but we here in Houston were out on an island. TV coverage was not like it is today, so only the diehard fans were able to stay with it.”
“From a personal standpoint I was trying to bring attention to this city as a potential MLS franchise through my mediums of TV, radio and writing columns at the Houston Chronicle,” Davis said. “I knew Houston had so many individuals that were passionate about the game, contributing to the game in so many ways whether it be organizing leagues, coaching, playing. They were pioneering and enjoying every minute of it.”
Thirty-two years after arriving in Houston, the former teammates are not surprised by the healthy turnout for this weekend’s reunion.
“There is a real connection amongst former players that is wonderful,” Davis said. “Friendships have remained and this weekend is a great way to realize the past and see where the future has come in the sport of soccer!”
“[The strong turnout] says that those players truly enjoyed their time playing at a Houston stadium or arena, in front of Houston fans that loved their teams and wanted to cheer them on to success. I was very surprised in the last month how the word of this event spread from teammate to teammate, and how many from out of state were immediately saying, "I want to be there!" I think it says that Houston has a rich history in soccer, and great fans.”
Houston soccer alumni set to attend Saturday’s game between Dynamo and Toronto FC
Houston Hurricane (most Hurricane players also played for Houston Summit)
Juan Carlos Michia
Tony “Chunky” Bono
Beto Dos Santos
Wayne Fuller (Trainer)
Peter Kane (Owner)
Jim Walker (GM)
Hernan “Chico” Borja (Head Coach)
Giorgio Borlenghi (Owner)
Beto Dos Santos
Diego Lopez Maradona
Blaine Wilson (Trainer)
Dee Ann Crumbley Houston Pro Soccer “SuperFans”
Robin Crumbley Jungbauer Houston Pro Soccer “SuperFans”