On Tuesday night, the Houston Dynamo will take on the Seattle Sounders in Leg One of Major League Soccer’s Western Conference Championship, with the winner of the series heading to the MLS Cup to play for the league title.
Although Tuesday’s match sold out, Houston hasn’t seen the same level of excitement citywide like when the Astros played for the American League Championship Series, baseball’s equivalent.
Even self-described Houston sports fans KHOU met around Discovery Green Tuesday morning admitted they don’t know much about soccer.
“You would think that it would be a bigger deal here, since that’s the main sport for the Latino population,” said Alex Victoria. “I’m half-Peruvian, but yet again, I don’t know much about soccer.”
“Just never grew up watching it or playing it, so I never had the vibe from it,” Daniel Wachsberg said.
“I guess just the history of baseball is in those roots,” Crystal Dubois said. “All kids, we start ‘em as little kids playing T-ball, baseball.”
However, former Dynamo player Michael Chabala, who won two championships with the team during its first two seasons in 2006 and 2007, says since he left Major League Soccer in 2013, he’s only seen the sport grow in popularity.
“We have more visibility, contracts are increasing, there’s better players that are coming to our country to play in our league,” Chabala said.
The former defender says not only has the number of youth leagues grown, but he’s also seen increasing interest firsthand after 2-and-a-half years of teaching soccer-inspired fitness classes through his business, Sphere.
“I don’t think it’s a lack of interest in soccer or our organization,” said Chabala on the lack of visible Dynamo support around Houston.
Chabala says Houston has a big fan base for global teams like FC Barcelona and Manchester United. Now, he says the Dynamo need to keep establishing itself as a winning team and ramp up community outreach.
“We as an organization, myself as a soccer ambassador, have to do a better job of really engaging the community like we did in ’06, where we’re telling the story of what the Houston Dynamo is, who the players are, and getting those players to actually touch people in the community so that they have a reason to come to those games,” he said.
One Houston sports radio broadcaster told KHOU Tuesday trying to compare support for soccer in Houston to that of other local sports is “like comparing apples to oranges,” because other leagues have established roots in the Bayou City for decades longer than MLS. That sportscaster also says he thinks a lot of the buzz the Dynamo would normally get during the playoffs got overshadowed by the Houston Astros’ World Series-winning postseason run.