More than 25,000 fans converged on Robertson Stadium on April 2, 2006 for what turned out to be one of the most memorable games in Houston Dynamo history as the Dynamo made their debut in their new home town.
After a whirlwind four-month buildup that started with an announcement in December that the San Jose Earthquakes franchise would be relocated to Houston and included a name and logo launch (and then subsequent re-launch), the team and the city were still just getting to know one another. The crowd left with a lasting impression that featured a four-goal performance from Brian Ching and a late bicycle kick from Alejandro Moreno, and a lasting relationship was quickly born.
Houston’s 5-2 victory over the Colorado Rapids on a clear 82-degree evening in Southeast Texas is etched in the memory of two spectators who witnessed one of the marquee moments in club history from a shared, yet different perspective.
For former Dynamo play-by-play announcer Charlie Pallilo and ex-defender Eddie Robinson, the match was more than a first impression; it set the tone for the foundation of an organization that would go on to win two MLS Cup titles and later go on to claim the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2018.
“Man, we are 14 years removed, but to end that first game, have an instant star established when Brian Ching goes for four scores and I believe Alejandro Moreno – cherry on the sundae – with a bicycle kick for the fifth one. So, you had everything that would appeal to die-hard soccer fans. A team playing well, a team playing good soccer,” Pallilo said. “Those who were curious got a 5-2 final, so seven goals. I remember telling myself that no matter how technically brilliant it might be, don’t let this be a nothing-nothing game, a one-nothing game. Let it be a back and forward type of game, have some exchange.”
Robinson missed that exchange due to an injury he suffered in preseason. The current Dash assistant coach watched his teammates open the 2006 season much like they finished in 2005 – dismantling the opposing team in their half of the field. With the victory the team extended its 14-game unbeaten run in the regular season going back to their time in Northern California as the San Jose Earthquakes.
“Just the look on people’s faces and everything you saw on TV and online, everyone was so excited and the energy around this game was just amazing. It was certainly fun to be a part of,” Robinson said. “As I get older, I gain more perspective because you need to have life experiences to have any perspective. As I get more perspective, I start to appreciate those moments more. That was certainly one game I won’t forget because of the atmosphere around it and I was so angry that I didn’t get to play.”
Robinson fully recovered the following week and made his season debut as a second half substitute against Kansas City. The University of North Carolina product would go on to score two goals in 25 appearances for the Dynamo in their inaugural season in Houston. But that first game, when he was forced to watch as a fan, still sticks out to him.
Of the 32 regular season games Houston played in 2006, Robinson always points to the inaugural game as the bridge between the club and a new fanbase that was limited to few options for live high-level soccer.
“Prior to the game and I was looking around, but when you’re on the field sometimes you don’t realize what is going on everywhere else. In the stands, on the sidelines, around the concourse – people block that out,” Robinson said. “You’re just too focused, but for that game – I could watch, I could listen, I could read lips and see the excitement of the people who were there. To them it was like holy crap this is real, we’ve never had this before.”
That experience carried over to the locker room according to Robinson who shared the field with MLS veterans like Wade Barrett, Dwayne De Rosario, Craig Waibel and Pat Onstad. This group of veterans would go on to lead the club to back-to-back MLS Cup titles and embrace their new community. Several, like Ching, Robinson and Barrett, went on to make their homes here after retirement.
“To fans it was like, ‘Holy crap, this is real, we’ve never had this before!’ That’s something I think can get lost on a group of players that have come from an extremely successful situation in San Jose as we did,” Robinson said. “We won the MLS Supporters’ Shield, we won two MLS Cups in San Jose. We were used to being successful, but the fans in this city weren’t used to having a successful soccer team. Now we represented them and the guys understood that responsibility. You saw that after games or in the community, we just didn’t say no. We were grateful to the fans for supporting us.”
The city had hosted international friendlies at the club and international level after missing out on an MLS side when the league launched in 1996, and Houston seemed a lock for an MLS franchise as the league looked to expand its reach in Texas and the fourth largest market in the country. Once a franchise was secured, there was only one opportunity for a first impression and for Pallilo, the quality spoke for itself.
“It’s difficult to overrate the credibility boost that having a magnificent first game did for the franchise. You’re introducing yourself to a brand-new audience. Quality sells and everyone wants to support a winner, Pallilo said. “That they were good and good immediately, I don’t want to say that was essential to the viability of the franchise, but man. Those were high voltage booster cables for the Dynamo brand. You had a real nice combination of factors. The biggest of course was that first game with Ching hitting the net again, and again, and again and again. That’s four.”
If it’s been a while since you saw that first match, or if you’ve never seen it before, you can watch it on-demand on HoustonDynamo.com through Tuesday, March 31 at 11:59 p.m.