Reliant Park Stadium – Electric Atmosphere
If the United States get another chance to host a FIFA World Cup™, it would not be surprising if Reliant Stadium in Houston were called upon to host matches. In its short existence, Reliant Stadium has proven, well, reliable, at attracting huge crowds.
The stadium, however, is not on US Soccer’s shortlist to be a venue for FIFA World Cup1™ qualifying matches in the CONCACAF semi¬final round for South Africa, but it could be used in the final round. “Reliant Stadium is a great venue,” US Soccer President Sunil Gulati said. “We would consider it.”
Of course, there is a major difference between the actual tournament and getting there. Teams schedule qualifiers in cities and venues that give them the greatest chance of picking up three points. The FIFA World Cup1″, the greatest show on earth, is a worldwide celebration of football and the stadium has certainly proved capable of drawing some large audiences, especially to see Hispanic teams.
Reliant has hosted more than a dozen international football games since it was constructed in 2002, none more important than a pair of titanic encounters between CONCACAF arch-rivals the USA and Mexico. What makes the facility unique is that it has a retractable roof to keep out the elements. And as people who have spent time in Houston during the summer will know, it can be hot and muggy to the nth degree.
In fact, the unbeatable heat led to the building of the Astrodome for Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros in 1965, the first domed stadium on the planet.
Advances in modern technology allowed local officials to build a state-of-the-art USD 367 million stadium, taking their lead from the construction of the Gelredome (Arnhem, the Netherlands), which had a retractable roof and a grass pitch suitable for outdoor matches, and the Sapporo Dome (in Sapporo, Japan), which has a traditional dome with a pitch that can be used outdoors as well (the latter facility hosted games during the 2002 World Cup).
For the first US-Mexico encounter on 8 May 2003, 69,582 spectators were entertained by a typically fierce battle that ended in a goalless draw.
A stadium record 70,550 watched Barcelona tussle with Club America (Mexico) in August 2006 while 70,103 witnessed the latest confrontation between the Mexicans and Americans – a 2-2 draw – on 6 February 2008.
The Barcelona-America encounter went down as a classic as the Spanish club incredibly rallied from a three-goal deficit in five minutes to salvage a 4-4 draw. Javier Saviola (Argentina), Ronaldinho (Brazil) and Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon) scored for Barca, the latter in stoppage time. Needless to say, the atmosphere was electric for the most recent encounter between the USA and Mexico, and with the roof closed due to the rain, it was an extremely loud night. “It was the way it always is,” said US forward Clint Dempsey, who plays for English club Fulham. “The way it was in Phoenix, the way it was in the Gold Cup. It was really loud.”
“The atmosphere was crazy,” said US midfielder Ricardo Clark, who plays for two-time MLS Cup champions Houston Dynamo at club level. Meanwhile, Mexico coach Hugo Sanchez said that “The teams played this friendly with the intensity of a qualifier.”
Reliant has also hosted InterLiga matches — a competition for Mexican clubs to qualify for the Copa Libertadores – in 2004, 2005 and 2006 and CONCACAF Gold Cup matches in 2005 and 2007 (68,417 saw a first-round double-header that featured Cuba, Honduras, Mexico and Panama and 70,092 were in attendance for a quarter-final double-header that included Mexico, Costa Rica, Guadeloupe and Honduras).
Another type of football is played at the stadium, the American kind (National Football League), and it is home to the Houston Texans. The stadium also hosted Supet Bowl XXXVIII (38) in 2004 and the East-West Shrine game between American college football all-stars. Furthermore, the National Collegiate Athletics Association puts on its regional tournament here and the Final Four of college basketball – the semi-finals and final — are scheduled for 2011.
THE STONES AND RODEO
On top of that, non-sporting stars such as the Rolling Stones and Gloria Estefan have performed there and Miley Cyrus, aka Hannah Montana, a popular children’s TV star in the US, was scheduled here this March. The stadium is home to rodeo events as well and can be used for trade fairs and livestock shows.
The stadium, named after Reliant Energy (which paid USD 10 million a year for its naming rights up to 2032), is part of a huge complex named Reliant Park that includes Reliant Arena for basketball games and children’s shows and the Astrodome.
The 1.9-million-square-foot stadium also has plenty to offer for those fans that can afford it -165 private suites, 8,200 club seats and more than 400 concession and novelty stands.
And in case you are wondering, the retractable roof, which is made from steel and Teflon-coated fibreglass fabric, takes ten minutes to open or close. The stadium has more than 1,000 miles of wire and cable and in the neighbourhood of 17,274 tons of steel.
As for the World Cup, given the stadium’s early success, football authorities would find a way for at least one Hispanic team to play its matches there.
But a lot must happen before then, including the US submitting a successful bid to FIFA. One thing is certain, though, Reliant Stadium has lived up to its name as it proven to be a venue you can rely on for football games.