Seattle Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid’s introduction to Frisco, Texas, came about a dozen years ago when the Los Angeles Galaxy was researching what kind of field to install at its new stadium, which would become the StubHub Center.
“I remember driving to look at (the Frisco High School) field and coming out here and going, ‘This is the middle of nowhere,’ ” Schmid said Tuesday. “And then when I heard years later (that FC Dallas was moving there) I still had this vision of it.”
Schmid told the tale while standing on one of 17 soccer fields that adjoin Toyota Stadium, where the Sounders and FC Dallas will play Wednesday. Nearby is a whizzing toll road that wasn’t completed when he first visited. On the horizon is a new hotel. The nearby landscape is dotted with restaurants, businesses and a multiscreen movie theater.
“Obviously, so much is being built up around here,” Schmid said. “And they could see maybe that the demographic movement was coming in this direction.”
The man who saw that was a man who had a knack for seeing things before they happened: Lamar Hunt, a principle founder of the American Football League, the North American Soccer League and Major League Soccer. At the time of his death, he owed two MLS teams: the Columbus Crew and FC Dallas. His contributions to soccer are immortalized through the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which the Sounders won for the fourth time last week.
And it was he who looked at the same “middle of nowhere” that Schmid visited, and saw instead the beginning of something.
Here’s how the Hoops’ decision to move from urban Dallas to suburban Frisco in 2005 is remembered by Dan Hunt, president of FC Dallas and one of Lamar Hunt’s sons: “My dad said, ‘Look, we’re very early here. I will be gone’ — his health was very bad at that point and we all knew it — but he said, ‘Your stands will be full when I’m gone. It’s just going to take time.’ ”
That time may be nearing. FC Dallas ranked as low as 17th in MLS attendance in 2011. The next season, the Hoops drew a franchise-record 218,636 fans. Last season, that record was topped. This season, Dallas is averaging 16,786 and on pace for another record.
That remains about 2,000 per game below the league average of 18,880, and far below the Sounders’ league-leading average of 42,238. Lamar Hunt’s prediction of full stands isn’t yet fulfilled. But the club likes the trend for both the franchise and for Frisco, which Dan Hunt says is on its way to becoming its own urban core at the northeast corner of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.
Of course, it helps to have a winning team. Dallas’ 13-10-6 record puts them fourth in the Western Conference, nine points behind league-leading Seattle, but eight points clear of sixth-place Vancouver. The Hoops have won six in a row at home.
The Sounders, meanwhile, are finishing a three-game road trip and looking to bounce back from a 4-1 loss Saturday at New York.
“I think this a strong team, both mentally and physically,” said Sounders forward Kenny Cooper, who played for Dallas from 2006-2009 and again in 2013. “Obviously throughout the year you face some challenges, whether it’s injuries or coming off a loss. (The Open Cup) was really an important game and a great win, followed by a disappointing loss against New York. But the good thing is we don’t have too long to get onto the field, coming up against a good team with a lot of talented players.”
A below-average crowd could be in the offing for this midweek match. But Schmid said the intensity of the Frisco crowds remains comparable to what he remembers from when the club played at the Cotton Bowl. What he has noticed instead, is a change of demographics.
“It’s become more of a soccer/suburban crowd,” he said. “It’s become maybe a little less Latin in their support. There was always a strong Latin following when they were in the Cotton Bowl, and that strong, more of a city feeling.”
Hunt acknowledged that, but added that “our model is to bring soccer to everybody.” And he believes that also can be achieved in Frisco.
“Location-wise, timing-wise, yes, Dad was right: We were early,” Dan Hunt said. “Dad happened to be right about a lot of things. It’s funny to look back on his vision, his memories, his ideas, and you’re a hard-headed son growing up. And then you look back, and you miss him, and you cherish him and you realize how right he was about a lot of things.”