Beyond The Boxscore

The secret of the new Dynamo stadium: Intimacy makes it the best sports arena in Houston already

The secret of the new Dynamo stadium: Intimacy makes it the best sports arena in Houston already

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BBVA Compass Stadium is already the best sports arena in Houston. Houston Dynamo/Facebook
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You'd better love orange if you're going to the Houston Dynamo's new stadium. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
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Dynamo president Chris Canetti has been everywhere as the team's first game at BBVA approaches. Photo by Jose Monterrosa
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Dynamo fans suddenly have a real home of their own. No more  nights at Robertson. Photo via The Overtime Page
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Chris Thomas and his son Anthony sit in the last row, the very top row of the Houston Dynamo's new home. There is no neck craning involved, no binoculars required though.

Heck, Bob Uecker would be downright aghast at these cheap seat digs. You can see everything? Well?

What kind of last row is this.

Welcome to BBVA Compass Stadium, the land where bad seats do not exist. Even in Row T of the 200 level, the last row.

"I'm surprised by how it still feels like you're close in what I'd say is the worst seat in the house," Chris Thomas says.

 BBVA Compass Stadium is already the best sports stadium in Houston. There's no need to wait for a year from now, or even till Saturday, to acknowledge that. 

If you're in the last row at Reliant Stadium, the players are but ants down below. In the last row at Toyota Center, a dunk can be but a rumor. And just try seeing a pitch from the last row of Minute Maid Park's upper deck.

This is the big difference between the Houston Dynamo's new stadium and all the rest. It's the difference between having a steak at Morton's and having a steak at the hot new local spot in town.

You can get a great meal at Morton's. But the other is a little more personal.

BBVA Compass Stadium is more personal.

"When people think of stadiums, they tend to think of Minute Maid Park or Reliant," says Doug Hall, the general manager of the new stadium. "This is more like an outdoor arena.

"I think people are going to be surprised by how intimate it is, by how close they are to the action, by how much fun it is. At least, that's what I hope."

It's a Thursday night of hope, the first time the Dynamo's new stadium has been used for a game. The Dynamo call this matchup between the Dynamo Academy and the U.S. Under-17 Men's National Team "a soft opening" as if this is a restaurant giving a preview to a few friends, family and invited guests.

Only almost 9,000 of them show up.

On a night when only season ticket holders, sponsors and special guests are let in, the size of the crowd is a testament to just how much interest there is in this stadium on the East End. Everyone wants to look around and soak it up, to bring their own story back to jealous co-workers Friday morning. And to lug home a souvenir — or six.

 The real feat of engineering at this $95 million sports haven is how a 22,000-seat facility is made to feel like a 5,000 seat one. 

By 7 p.m., a good half hour before the first center circle kick of a glorified exhibition, there is already a line outside the Dynamo Team Store. It's already too packed inside the store. People will have to wait to shop.

Unless they want to move down the concourse and buy a $9.50 Bud Light or a $9 smoked brisket. Those lines are lighter. For now.

Imagine what it will be like on Saturday afternoon when the Dynamo's official opening game against D.C. United lures a sellout of 22,000-plus through the gates. Stephanie Fulton already is. This longtime soccer nut (one who still plays, as she puts it, "with the other old ladies") has season tickets with her partner Liz Brackeen for the first time, the result of one of the best birthday presents ever.

"I love the orange," Fulton says, looking around at enough orange to make the Netherlands jealous. "I really didn't think it would be this orange."

"I don't know what they're going to do when Texas Southern plays here," Brackeen laughs, referring to the fact that Texas Southern University gets to play its football games at The Compass. "You can't hide this much orange."

To play in a stadium as nice as this one, Texas Southern would change its school colors if it needed to.

No. 1 From The Open

BBVA Compass Stadium is already the best sports stadium in Houston. There's no need to wait for a year from now, or even till Saturday, to acknowledge that. Nothing else comes close to delivering its intimacy, to putting the fans this on top of the action. Forget the air that flows through all the openings in the concourse walls. The real feat of engineering at this $95 million sports haven is how a 22,000-seat facility is made to feel like a 5,000 seat one.

Dynamo president Chris Canetti — who has shaken more hands this week than Leslie Knope — likes to brag how the suites are only nine rows from the field. And that's nice. But the real trick is how the last row of the stadium is only 20 rows up on its level.

It's all enough to bring a former Houston Hotshots player to head-shaking wonder. You remember the Hotshots? The former professional indoor soccer league team that toiled to gain a foothold in Houston in the mid 1990s?

 One older sportswriter in Houston is already taking predictions on which night the Dynamo will outdraw the Houston Astros when there are competing games. 

David Deberteal played for the Hotshots. Now, on this night, he sits and chuckles at a whole other universe of a soccer experience.

"It's amazing to think back to when I was on Hotshots playing our games at the old Rockets center (the Compaq Center) and we trying to get six or five thousand fans in the place," Deberteal says. "Doing whatever we could. And now . . . they're going to get 20,000 people into this gorgeous place. A place meant for soccer." 

Unlike the MLS' other new stadiums, which are out in the suburbs where soccer moms are supposed to roam, the Dynamo's new home is of the city. It makes the Dynamo not just soccer cool in a city that embraces the sport.

It makes the team now big-event cool.

The Lure

Everyone is going to want a night in the new stadium. One older sportswriter in Houston is already taking predictions on which night the Dynamo will outdraw the Houston Astros when there are competing games. It's not framed as question of if an MLS team can outdraw a Major League Baseball team with 50 years of history. It's regarded as question of when, an inevitability.

Houston is a town that loves the major happening — witness how quickly the Houston Texans have taken a complete stranglehold over the city with their one playoff win, colorful Bulls On Parade defense and philosopher superstar Arian Foster. This stadium instantly gives the Dynamo event status.

They're not just a soccer team anymore.

That doesn't mean that Dynamo games suddenly become the best live sports experiences in Houston. There is nothing in the same galaxy as being at Reliant when Connor Barwin's flapping his arms at a roaring crowd of 70,000 crazies with Wade Phillips' defense on the attack.

The best arena — the closest fan experience — can only take one so far. The NFL could puts its fans on the top of skyscrappers to look down and watch and it'd still be king.

But it's no great stretch to imagine Dynamo games becoming more of a happening than Rockets or Astros games. For at least a season or two.

You can see it as the people (many of them in orange too) keep pouring in for the "soft opening."

"This is why you do it," says Hall, whose team has worked for 45 straight days without a single day off, with all the days on 16 to 18-hour monsters now, as Saturday approaches. "You want people to leave here thinking it's something special."

No worries on that. The Dynamo's new home is already the new champ, the best sports stadium in Houston. No need to wait for the standing eight count.