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Earthquakes move to Houston, name stays in San Jose.

MLS notes

Houston team will play at UH stadium for three years.

Don Garber
From left to right, coach Dominic Kinnear, Houston Mayor Bill White and Anschutz Entertainment Group president and chief executive officer Tim Leiweke at press confence introducing MLS team to city.
-- Major League Soccer web site photo --
HOUSTON (Friday, December 16, 2005) -- The new Houston franchise will play its first three Major League Soccer seasons at the University of Houston's Robertson Stadium.

The former San Jose Earthquakes were formally welcomed to Houston by Mayor Bill White and other city officials in a downtown ceremony today.

Oliver Luck, a former quarterback for the professional football Houston Oilers who spent 10 years in Germany working for NFL Europe, will be the first president of the soccer franchise. Currently the chief executive officer of the Harris County Houston Sports Authority, Luck has led the effort to bring professional soccer to Houston.

"Houston has always been a city to welcome new things and new industries, and this is a very culturally diverse city," Luck said. "All of the communities work well together here, and I think that will be true when they get behind the soccer team."

The soccer team will share Robertson Stadium, capacity 32,000, with the Cougars football team. When Robertson was built in 1941, it had 14,500 seats, but has been expanded several times since. A $6 million expansion in 1999 added 20 luxury suites, while the track around the field was removed. A proposal exists for construction of an upper deck which would bring the capacity to 50,000.

A contest to name the soccer franchise will be held in January.

While Anschutz Entertainment Group, which is the owner-operator of Houston and three other MLS franchises, is committed to building a new soccer-specific stadium for its newly-moved franchise, UH athletic director Dave Maggard would like to see the team permanently locate on his campus

"A lot of soccer teams want a soccer-specific stadium, but that's not real easy to do," Maggard told the MLS web site. "And you look around and you won't see those soccer-specific stadiums, but the ones they like are the stadiums like ours that are intimate and comfortable. That's fine if they want to spend $50 million on a new stadium, but I think if they stay around long enough at our stadium, they'll see that they can't find a better venue for soccer. They're going to enjoy it so much and save so much money, they're going to want to stay with us.

"I've looked at facilities all over the country and I think they will find our stadium is one of the best for soccer anywhere."

AEG president and chief executive officer Timothy J. Leiweke, however, wants a venue devoted to soccer. "We are committed to building a soccer-specific stadium here," he said. "We're looking for a private-public partnership to fund it."

Two reasons AEG decided to move the Earthquakes were its antiquated Spartan Stadium, where the team played for all 10 of its seasons, and what it considered an unfavorable split of concessions and parking revenue with San Jose State University, the facility owner.

While approving the move of the franchise, MLS entered an agreement with San Jose to leave the Earthquakes name, colors and history with the city in anticipation of it obtaining an expansion franchise.

And today, the new owners of Major League Baseball's Oakland Athletics expressed an interest in bringing an MLS team to San Jose.

"I believe getting involved in another major league sport is a logical addition to our management's skills and interests," Lewis Wolff, the managing partner of the baseball team's ownership group, said in a statement. "I am familiar with the San Jose area and consider the community a great sports market."

The A's ownership group, which includes billionaire investor John Fisher and team general manager Billy Beane, purchased the baseball team on April 1.

MLS commissioner Don Garber said San Jose could obtain an expansion team as early as 2007, though AEG's failure to find a local investor and inability to put together a stadium deal before finally deciding to move might cast doubt on that prospect.

In the meantime, Leiweke emphasized at today's press conference that Houston would not go through the growing pains usually associated with expansion. All San Jose player and coaches contracts have been transferred to Houston.

San Jose won the MLS Cup title in 2001 and 2003 and captured the 2005 MLS Supporters Shield for the league's best record of 18-4-10 (64 points).

"This is not an expansion franchise," Leiweke said. "This is one of the best teams in the MLS. You're getting an extraordinary franchise.

"We're excited about the team we're moving here. This is the best franchise in the league and, while we're sad to leave San Jose where our players and coaches and their families have lived, we're excited about coming to Houston."

MetroStars ready to exercise option on Djorkaeff

SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Midfielder Youri Djorkaeff, a member of France's 1998 World Cup championship team, will return to the MetroStars for a second season, ESPN.com reported.

On Monday, the club is expected to announce it will exercise an option to retain Djorkaeff for the second year of the contract he signed before the 2005 season. He will be paid around $200,000 for 2006.

After overcoming injuries early in the season, Djorkaeff, 37, lived up to expectations, leading the MetroStars' late run into the playoffs. He had a goal and an assist in the first-round 3-2 aggregate playoff loss to the New England Revolution.

Wagenfuhr, Moor return from England

FRISCO, Texas -- FC Dallas defenders Drew Moor and David Wagenfuhr, following impressive MLS rookie seasons, recently returned from 10 days of training with Middlesbrough of the English Premier League.

The pair played mainly with the reserves, but also had a chance to train with the first team. They stayed at the apartment of midfielder Mark Wilson, who was obtained by Dallas from Middlesbrough late in the 2005 MLS season.

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