By: Darbi Lockridge // @sonchyenne
Houston is a soccer city with a history of selling out stadiums for soccer matches at its largest venues. The problem for MLS is that the teams that Houston-area fans come to see are not the Dynamo. With approximately 45% of its residents claiming Hispanic heritage, many are born into an allegiance to Latin American clubs – cultural instead of geographical home teams. Houston’s BBVA Stadium struggles to fill half of its 22,000 capacity for Dynamo games while the city had no issue selling over three times that number to fill NRG Stadium for the largest attended match in 2016, the semifinal of the Copa América Centenario, which pitted the USMNT against Lionel Messi and Argentina.
Houston has tried for years to bridge the gap between its majority white, non-supporter stakeholders and that targeted demographic. Fans often ask for a big-name signing to encourage that growth, but the culture of the team’s leadership isn’t one that lends itself, either financially or philosophically, to bringing on high profile, big paycheck players from Central or South America. Instead the team partners with local Spanish-speaking music acts, hosts “Hispanic Heritage Night”, and centers El Batallon – the team’s majority Latinx supporters’ group – in their fan marketing. The team’s effort to integrate Latin culture in the stadium often feels stymied by their disinterest in alienating white English-speakers that share both the neighborhood real estate and the stadium seats.
One of Houston’s most recent signings, however, seems to be a step in the right direction of bridging this cultural gap.
Joe Corona is a central midfielder who the Dynamo swiped from new in-state rivals Austin FC in the Re-Entry Draft just a week after Austin had picked him in the Expansion Draft. Corona is an American footballer, born in California to Mexican and Salvadoran parents, who spent his early pro career playing in the Mexican leagues, mostly in Liga MX. He was officially signed to Club Tijuana for 9 years but had year-long stints loaned out to Veracruz, Sinaloa, and América. During his time at Club América, the midfielder scored a single goal, but it earned him the Concacaf Goal of the Year in 2018.
Corona maintained his ties to the US during this time with 23 appearances for the US National Team from 2013 to 2018. In 2019, he returned to the United States to play for LA Galaxy for two seasons before making the move to Texas.
The Dynamo hosted a Zoom meet and greet for fans recently. The majority of the fans on the call seemed to fit into that elusive, target demographic. Many of the fan questions centered around Corona’s time playing for Mexican clubs and he was asked and answered questions in both English and Spanish. Attempting to glean hints of Tab Ramos’s plans for 2021, Corona was asked repeatedly about his position. He likes to play “anything in the middle” and of course provided the veteran stance that he’ll “fit in with what the coach wants.” Corona aptly called himself a technical player with good possession and connection with other players.
The Dynamo can certainly use a center mid like Joe Corona, but this signing may bring much more to the wider soccer community in Houston. His position in the middle of the two demographic groups that the Dynamo are so often juggling has the potential to make a big impact on fan engagement and attendance. He seems excited by fan interaction and has a great personality for it.
Hopefully we’ll have the pandemic under control and have the ability to capitalize on the signing both on the pitch and in the stadium concourse in April!
Featured image: Houston Dynamo FC
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