Marquee Players Boost MLS Attendances; Houston Dynamo Stadium Progress

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Seattle Sounders are top of the attendance charts, averaging 36,154 at Qwest Field this season (Getty)
(WFI) MLS crowds are on the upswing thanks to better stadiums, bigger stars and a 16th team.

The U.S. league is on pace for its fourth best attendance figures in its 15 years of existence.

Only its maiden season in 1996 and David Beckham's first two seasons in 2007 and 2008 boast better numbers.

An average of 16,350 fans is attending each game, the MLS reported. With two months left in the 2010 season, the league is eyeing a two per cent increase over last year.

Six teams show increases of between two and 40 per cent, six show decreases of between two and 32 per cent and three show no change.

New York crowds are up 40 per cent thanks to the opening of their new Red Bull Arena and the signing of marquee players Thierry Henry of France and Rafa Marquez of Mexico.

Expansion team Philadelphia Union is averaging almost 30,000 fans in its inaugural season.

FC Dallas and San Jose are each down 32 per cent apiece due to attendance inflation from last season. Both teams' 2009 figures benefited from doubleheaders at which they weren't the main draws.

Seattle is tops in attendance this season, averaging 36,154 at its newly expanded Qwest Field. Toronto FC is a distant second with 20,655 per match.

San Jose averages only 9,637, the lowest in the league.

Houston Dynamo stadium progress, 2011 marquee player
Changes are in store for MLS powerhouse Houston Dynamo.

Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of majority ownership group AEG, gave a progress report this week on plans for a soccer-specific stadium.

Construction of the 22,000-capacity venue is slated to begin by year's end, and the team will open its 2012 MLS season there.

AEG, which jointly owns the team along with businessman Gabriel Brener and boxer Oscar De La Hoya, is looking for funding from partners-to-be.

"Substantial progress has been made over recent weeks, and we are confident that these partnerships will be finalized soon," Leiweke said in a statement. "Our timeline is aggressive, and our focus is clear."

AEG and its partners will pay $60 million in construction costs, and taxes will fund another $20 million in infrastructure improvements.

Both the Dynamo and Texas Southern University's football team will call the new stadium in downtown Houston home.

So will a high-profile Designated Player if Leiweke gets his way.

The owner spoke during Tuesday's press conference of a meeting with Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear and CEO Chris Canetti in which he gave the go-ahead for the team to add a marquee international player for next season.

"If you are going, go big," he recalled telling them.

"I don't believe in halfway, and there is a commitment amongst all our partners to make it a significant player that moves the needle from a business standpoint, fan standpoint, as well as on the pitch."

The Designated Player Rule, adopted in 2007 and tweaked prior to this season, allows each MLS franchise to sign up to three players that would be considered outside of the team's salary cap.

"We've seen the impact in New York with [Thierry] Henry and [Rafa] Márquez," Leiweke said.

"I think the Dynamo fans deserve that and have a right to expect that. This is the fourth-largest city in the United States and it may be the best market in Major League Soccer."

By INSIDER's US correspondent Matthew Grayson
 

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