Houston Dynamo fans will welcome their team back to BBVA Compass Stadium this coming Saturday against Sporting Kansas City, the first home match since April 15. But many of them will be doing so with heavy hearts.
Leo Ponce, Jr., a Dynamo and Dash superfan who blogged and podcasted about both teams, passed away on April 16 at age 25 after an extended illness he’d battled since childhood. He cut an impressive figure in the teams’ communities, winning 2014 Fan of the Year honors from the Dynamo.
So in response, the Dynamo’s front office and supporters have come together with plans to honor Ponce’s life and fandom for Saturday’s match.
According to Frank Arnold, who oversees operations for the Dynamo, the team will wear pre-game warm-up tops with a special patch honoring Ponce. They’ll also be available for fans to purchase, with proceeds going to Dynamo Charities, the club’s non-profit arm.
The match will also premiere what will be christened Leo’s Row–the front row of section 133, the home of El Batallon (the supporters’ group to which Ponce belonged) before the new Zona Naranja debuted this season. On Saturday, members of Ponce’s family will be the honored guests in Leo’s Row. For the remainder of the season, Leo’s Row will be reserved for first-time attendees to Dynamo games, with ticket distribution to be coordinated through Dynamo Charities.
The match will also incorporate a moment of silence prior to kick-off, with a member of El Batallon joining Ponce’s family in Leo’s Row to start the stadium-wide “We Are Orange” chant that opens Dynamo home matches. El Batallon members are also working up a special chant for the 88th minute. Manny Gutierrez, part of El Batallon’s leadership group, notes that 88 was chosen because the number had strong personal significance to Ponce.
“He’s definitely still part of the El Batallon family,” says Gutierrez, remembering Ponce as a funny and devoted soccer fan with a playful edge to his banter.
The group also admired his interest in helping others, and are planning charity efforts in his honor, likely to involve inner-city youth and soccer.
Erin Dallas knew Ponce primarily through their involvement in the Houston chapter of the American Outlaws, the supporters' group of the US national teams. She pulled together a charity effort for AOs the weekend after Ponce passed, for the #HashtagLunchbag project -- inspired by an effort Ponce launched, involving Houston soccer fans, to bring food to homeless people in the city.
In a heartfelt remembrance on Keeper Notes, one of the sites to which Ponce contributed, collaborator Hal Kaiser remembers him as “funny, irreverent, and self-deprecating.” He also recalls one online project Ponce initiated that epitomized his sense of humor: a massive email thread titled “the thread to end all threads” promising to “become the greatest collection of soccer knowledge of all time.”
Players, broadcasters, and club front office members—from former Dynamo player Brad Davis, to broadcaster Glenn Davis, to team president Chris Canetti—took to social media in the days following Ponce’s death to pay tribute. Canetti’s tweet from Apr. 18 noted, “Friday, we lost a game and it felt terrible. Saturday, we lost a friend and it brought perspective.”
Fri. we lost a game & it felt terrible. Sat. we lost a friend & it brought perspective. RIP Leo Ponce & thank you! https://t.co/ENAcijqcsY— Chris Canetti (@ChrisCanetti) April 18, 2016
More info about Dynamo Charities is available on the Dynamo web site.