First, Clint Dempsey announced his retirement from soccer on August 29. The Nacogdoches native is certainly the best male player ever to come from Texas and, arguably, also the best male player in U.S. Soccer history. During his career in MLS and England, Dempsey scored 129 goals. He also finished with 57 goals for the U.S. Mens National Team, tied for first all-time, and is the only American to score goals in three FIFA World Cups.

Second, the 2026 FIFA World Cup was awarded to the joint bid from the U.S., Mexico and Canada in June. 17 finalist cities in the United States were submitted in the joint bid. According to Sports Illustrated, this list will be whittled down to 10 cities by 2021. Both the DFW and Houston areas are still among the 17 in the running. If only 10 cities are selected, it will certainly be a challenge for both Texas Metro areas to take part. The Dallas area, which hosted matches in the 1994 USA World Cup, has already put on a full court press and Houston recently announced that former Houston Dynamo President Chris Canetti will lead Houston’s efforts. It will be an interesting competition. With 60 games to be played in the United States, I hope the list of cities is expanded and both Dallas and Houston have an opportunity to host matches.

#10: The Rio Grande Valley Becomes a Destination for International Soccer

Image credit: Rio Grande Valley Toros

International Soccer matches have been held in Texas since at least the 1930’s. With the exception of Liga MX club friendlies, played in a number of Texas locations, multiple international fixtures have been been hosted in the DFW area, Houston and, occasionally San Antonio. These events have included the 1994 World Cup, CONCACAF WC Qualifiers, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Copa America Centenario and a wide range of international friendlies contested by clubs from around the world. In 2018, the Rio Grande Valley demonstrated a willingness to step up and seek international matches themselves for their new venue in Edinburg, H-E-B Park, home of USL’s Rio Grande Valley FC (RGV FC). This Edinburg location seats 9,700 and is the third largest soccer specific stadium in the State. I visited the stadium last year and the link below has multiple photos and details about the venue.

First, H-E-B Park hosted a CONCACAF Champions League Qualifier between F.C. Motagua from Honduras and LigaMX’s Club Tijuana on February 21. This match was a home game for Motagua after CONCACAF allowed the match to be relocated due to political turmoil in Honduras. When the opportunity presented itself H-E-B Park submitted a bid to host. Though not the first choice of Motagua, H-E-B Park was eventually awarded this match. After losing a tough 1-0 game to Tijuana on a rain delayed night, Motagua stayed in the Valley for the remainder of the week and played a Saturday exhibition game against RGVFC, before heading to Northern Mexico for the return leg. Motagua drew in Tijuana and their Champions League run ended in the first round. Jon Arnold from Goal.com provided further background on how this match ended up in Texas.

https://www.goal.com/en-us/news/why-is-fc-motaguas-concacaf-champions-league-match-vs-club/1nfqx41fkic741cq38gygt4r8x

H-E-B Park served as the site for a second set of CONCACAF games in October when six group stage matches of the 2019 Women’s World Cup qualifiers were played in the Valley. Costa Rica, Cuba, Canada and Jamaica played a round-robin series over three dates. Canada and Jamaica moved on to the semifinals at Toyota Stadium in Frisco. The United States Women won the confederation title and will be one of the favorites in the France 2019 World Cup next year.

It is my understanding that the former President of Rio Grande Valley FC, Bert Garcia, played a significant role in these international fixtures. Garcia resigned in July and it will be interesting to see what plans H-E-B Park has for future international nights.

#9:  Multiyear Partnership with Mexican Soccer Federation in Dallas

On November 28, the Mexican National Soccer Federation (F.M.F), the Dallas Sports Commission, Dallas Cowboys and FC Dallas announced a wide-ranging four year partnership to feature the Mexican Men’s National Soccer Team in the Metroplex. This relationship will bring the Mexican team to play once per year in Arlington’s AT&T Stadium. The partnership will also include Fan-Fests in Dallas before each match, out-of-market Mexican National Team watch parties staged by FC Dallas, cross-promotional opportunities between AT&T Stadium and the F.M.F (including integration of athlete messages into the annual Dallas Cowboys Hispanic Heritage Celebration Game) and other community initiatives.

The media release also positioned the partnership as such: “The North Texas region will highlight its soccer growth and showcase their state-of-the-art world-class facilities across multiple fan facing events”. Hello 2026 World Cup selection committee! It will also be interesting to see what implications this partnership has on the future of the Mexican National Team’s association with Houston. Mexico has played 17 times at NRG Stadium and their relationship has been unofficially positioned by Houston public relations as a “home away from home”.

Though I clearly understand the rationale behind this relationship (especially the economics), it is still a wonder to me that an announcement like this is treated so matter of fact. Is there any other country in the world that would create a partnership like this for another national team? Soccer United Marketing, an affiliate of Major League Soccer and the F.M.F partner in the U.S., facilitated this arrangement and it makes good business sense. For long time fans of the United States National Team, though, it is just another in a long line of “what can you do” moments.

#8: Houston Aces win the United Women’s Soccer (UWS) Championship

According to its website, UWS is a Tier 2 women’s league that “aspires to be a true Division 2 league underneath the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL)”. The Houston Aces were a charter member of this summer league when it was founded in 2015. 2018 was the first year that the Aces were able to play their games in the Lone Star state when 4 Texas teams were added to form a Southwest Division in this nationwide league.
The Aces were the only Adult Texas team that won a national league championship last year. Their regular season record was phenomenal. Houston finished an undefeated 8 game regular season with a +50 goal differential, conceding only 3 goals. The Aces then defeated Calgary Foothills 3-1 in the National Semifinal and completed their undefeated championship season when they defeated Lancaster, PA-Inferno Rush 1-0 in AET in the UWS National Final to lift the Championship trophy. Forward Julie Gavorski scored the match winner and was named the Championship MVP.

#7: Another Season of Challenges for the Houston Dash

The Houston Dash have not made the playoffs since entering the top U.S. professional Women’s league, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), in 2014. This year began with great promise. Vera Pauw, an experienced Dutch international coach recommended by legendary North Carolina University coach Anson Dorrance, was introduced as the new Dash head coach late in 2017. Early in the year the team accommodated US International Carli Lloyd’s wishes to be closer to her home and completed a three-way trade that would bring another US International, Christen Press, to play forward.

Then the wheels fell off. Press refused to play in Houston and joined an international league for a few months until the Dash arranged a trade in June that sent her to Utah Royals. With a gaping hole in their attack, the Dash started the season with only one win in their first nine games, scoring only 7 goals. Though the team recovered in the second part of the season, they were unable to overcome the poor start and missed the playoffs again, finishing 9-10-5, in sixth place-5 points out of a playoff spot. There was some positive news despite falling short of the playoffs. Houston stayed in the playoff race until the last week and finished with the best finish in their short history. Sophia Huerta, the main piece acquired in the Christen Press trade, scored 5 goals after she arrived in Houston and combined with Rachel Daly and Kealia Ohai to bring a stronger attack in the back half of the season. It should be noted that the Dash only won one game against the four NWSL teams that made the playoffs. They also ended the season with an ugly 5-0 loss to North Carolina, the eventual 2018 NWSL Champions.

A few weeks after the end of the season, the positive progress took another step backwards when Vera Pauw elected not to renew her contract and instead return back to the Netherlands. Earlier this month the Dash announced that former Dynamo Academy director James Clarkson will take take over as head coach in 2019. In a revealing interview in the English online site, Tribal Football, Dash GM Brian Ching opened up about his frustration with the progress of the Dash from their entry into the league. He also shared why he believes Clarkson will be a good fit going forward:
“[We] wanted a coach that understood the game, could coach and create connections to players. In the past, we had great coaching brains who were not able to connect to the players—that was the disconnect. They were not getting their absolute best out of the players. James has developed players and the players wanted coaching at the individual level. He can do that.”

The article and rest of the interview with Brian Ching can be found here:

https://www.tribalfootball.com/articles/the-week-in-women-s-football-interview-with-houston-gm-ching-new-zealand-mexico-league-reviews-4262133

The Dash enter 2019 with a young roster that appears to be on the upswing. Their fans certainly hope that that the new year will bring the first playoff appearance.

#6: National Soccer Hall of Fame Opens in Frisco

Image Credit: National Soccer Hall of Fame Facebook

The United States Soccer National Soccer Hall of Fame (HOF) was reopened at Toyota Stadium in Frisco during a weekend ceremony in October. This new facility allows soccer fans to see and experience the history of soccer in the U.S. again, after the previous location in New York was shuttered to the general public in 2009. The opening weekend celebration included the 2018 induction ceremony, a concert and a Hall of Fame game between FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City. It also provided an opportunity for members of the Society for American Soccer History (SASH) and a number of former NASL players and officials to gather in a central location dedicated to the sport.

The Hall was reopened thanks to the efforts of the Hunt Family, FC Dallas, the City of Frisco, Frisco I.S.D. and U.S. Soccer. The $55 million facility, though experiencing delays, ended up costing more than originally intended and overages were covered by FC Dallas and the Hunts. The 19,000 + square foot space has been seamlessly integrated into a renovation of Toyota Stadium that also includes club seating, locker facilities, Clubs, media center and a retail store. Buzz Carrick, from the North Texas 3rd Degree site wrote an excellent article about the new facility for mlssoccer.com, describing the modern technology incorporated into the HOF to distinguish it from the stodgy concept of traditional museums.

https://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2018/10/16/10-things-about-new-national-soccer-hall-fame

I had the pleasure of visiting the old location in New York before it closed and look forward to a visit to the new Hall of Fame sometime this year.

Top 10 2018 Stories #5-1: