Any Texas Derby is big for both FC Dallas and Houston Dynamo fans -- and the next one, as part of Heineken Rivalry Week, arrives in Houston this Friday (9 pm ET, UniMás and Facebook in the US, MLS LIVE in Canada).
But for one special Dynamo fan, Francisco Rios, Friday’s match at BBVA Compass Stadium serves as a significant personal milestone. It mark his 100th consecutive home match — a string that dates back to a 2011 playoff match against the Philadelphia Union, which vaulted the Dynamo into the Eastern Conference Finals and the MLS Cup. To commemorate the attendance streak, the Dynamo plan to recognize him on the field at halftime.
Attending 100 straight home matches across seven seasons makes for an achievement in itself. But consider that since September 2015, Rios, who is a born-and-raised Houstonian, hasn’t even lived in the sprawling Houston metro area.
Rather, he’s lived in Corpus Christi, a city on Texas’ Gulf Coast, more than 200 miles from Houston. For every game, he's made the more than 400-mile round trip drive for matches, be they on Friday night, Saturday, Sunday, or even Wednesday.
“The first thing I did this year when the schedule came out was to check to see when the Wednesday matches were,” Rios says. “I was hoping there wouldn’t be any, but I knew I wouldn’t be that lucky.”
On top of this, though Rios counts himself as an avid fan of all Houston sports teams, he wasn’t even living in the city when the Dynamo arrived for the 2006 season. Rather, he was going to school in Dallas, and despite his love of soccer, was staying away from FC Dallas matches out of allegiance to the Houston-Dallas rivalry he feels in all sports.
Instead, Rios first saw the Dynamo play in 2010, when a friend convinced him to attend what would be his first live soccer match. He said he became a fan right away, going to matches at venerable Robertson Stadium — the Dynamo’s original home — during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
But it was the team’s last game at Robertson when Rios became a fully fledged Dynamo fan and started his streak. He took family members to the game, wanting them to enjoy it as much as he did.
Of course, he remembers the night vividly. That's when the Dynamo broke a scoreless tie on a Brad Davis free kick that found Brian Ching’s head for the match’s only goal. “People were throwing streamers and jumping up and down,” Rios remembers fondly. “That moment happened in slow motion for me.”
Several weeks later, he committed to season tickets, and he’s been a faithful fan since, even though his construction job moving to Corpus made the commute more challenging, to put it lightly.
To be fair, Texans are accustomed to driving long distances. They take a certain pride in, as the classic Asleep at the Wheel song has it, being able to navigate “miles and miles of Texas.” But for Rios, the long distances were made worth it by the friendships he forged and the camaraderie he’s found in fellow Dynamo fans.
In fact, one of his favorite Dynamo memories was last year’s tribute to Leo Ponce, Jr., a fellow Dynamo superfan who died due to complications from a longtime illness last year and was honored by the team for his dedication.
“I don’t miss home matches, but this guy made all the scrimmages, training, away games, wrote about the Dynamo for a blog, had a podcast,” Rios remembers. “He was just on another level. And he was easy to talk to—super friendly, always laughing, wasn’t afraid to mix it up with a jab or two. He was just an all-around great guy, and we definitely all miss him around here.”
Rios with Ponce, Jr. Photo courtesy of Francisco Rios
Like many Dynamo fans, his favorite team memories include last year’s 5-0 drubbing of FC Dallas in perhaps the most infamous of Texas Derbies. But he’s also made some memories this season, too. The most recent Texas Derby in Frisco, a 0-0 draw during Memorial Day Weekend, was Rios’ first away match. He’s also journeyed to RGVFC matches, the Dynamo-affiliated USL team headquartered in the nearly-million-strong metropolis along the Mexican border.
Last year, he also got to be on the field as part of the pre-game match ball ceremony, which was a personal highlight for him, even though it was a game the Dynamo lost. “My friends think we lost because I kissed the ball,” Rios says, laughing. He’s hoping that the pomp around his appearance at Friday’s match brings better results, marking a streak he plans to keep going.
He also envisions a future where he returns to Houston and it’s easier for him to get to matches. “I love Corpus,” he says of his current city, “but Houston’s home.”