HOUSTON -- The city's new Major League Soccer franchise is called Houston 1836, commemorating the year of Houston's founding.
Major League Soccer officials joined city leaders Wednesday at a flashy news conference unveiling the moniker of the relocated San Jose Earthquakes, who moved to Texas last month. Their colors will be black, blue and orange.
The unusual nickname echoes the practice of some German clubs, which include the year of their founding in their names: TSV 1860 Munich, Hannover 96, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, FC Schalke 04 and TSV Mainz 05.
Houston becomes the fourth MLS team with a European-style nickname, joining CD Chiva USA, Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas.
From this day forward, the Houston 1836 logo will be a symbol of a hardworking team," said team president Oliver Luck. "This is a team for Houston. If you live in Houston, you must like it here. If you like Houston, come out and support another Houston franchise."Now, all the team and organizers have to do is make it work.
The franchise failed in San Jose because of low attendance and lack of city support for a new stadium. The Earthquakes drew the league's lowest average crowd -- 12,526 -- during the 2005 regular season at Spartan Stadium on the campus of San Jose State.
In Houston, 1836 will play their first three seasons in 32,000-seat Robertson Stadium, home of the University of Houston football team. Luck, a former quarterback with the Houston Oilers, has been seeking corporate sponsors to possibly help build a soccer-only stadium.As for luring fans, MLS commissioner Don Garber said Wednesday the team will flourish in Houston because of favorable demographics, most notably one of the nation's largest Hispanic populations -- about 1.675 million.
"We have always believed that combination of the diversity and the passion of the city's sports fans and the size of the market would lead to success for an MLS team," Garber said. "We've also had great success with the international markets, maybe as much as we've had in any city."
Hispanic soccer fans have flocked to Reliant Stadium in recent years for international matches involving mainly Mexican teams. An Interliga doubleheader earlier this month drew an estimated crowd of 25,000.
City councilman Adrian Garcia, whose parents were born in Mexico, said the Hispanic community will embrace the new team, too.
"The feeling is one of excitement, anticipation and the end of a long wait," Garcia said. "There is a great fan base here that happens to be Hispanic, largely of Mexican descent, and they will follow this team with passion."
Others aren't so sure.
Juan Giraldo is the president of the Houston Toros, a team in the semipro Universal Soccer Federation. Houston 1836 has mostly American players and none from Mexico, although it does have one from Venezuela and another from El Salvador. Giraldo said that's not enough.
"The Hispanic community is very excited that this is happening," Giraldo said. "But they definitely need to integrate some more Hispanic players. The Mexican community is very close to the Mexican leagues. For the MLS to work here, there has to be some connection to their own teams."
Houston is inheriting one of the league's top franchises. The Earthquakes won the MLS in 2001 and 2003 and had the best regular-season record in the 12-team league in 2005.
Fans who attended the Interliga doubleheader on Jan. 4 said they'd follow the team if it continued to win.
"It will maybe take a little bit of time for the people to notice, but they will win over the fans by being a good team," said Silvano Guevara, who was born in Mexico but has lived in Houston for 30 years. "I want to see good soccer all the time. We only see these games two or three times a year. We want some more."
Luck said the franchise will set up "friendly" matches between the team and clubs from Mexico. And games will be carried on both English- and Spanish-speaking television stations in Houston.