As the Houston Dynamo Football Club celebrates City of Soccer Week this week and highlights the city’s soccer culture and those who helped create it, the Club announced its newest inductees into the Orange Blazer Club on Wednesday. This year’s class celebrates the two of the city’s most dedicated soccer figures.
Jorge Figueroa and Jen Cooper may not be household names for the casual soccer fan, but given the work that they have done to promote the sport, perhaps they should be. Both have played crucial roles, often behind the scenes, in building the game and creating opportunities for people to fall in love with it.
Jen Cooper is a lifelong soccer fan and Rice University almunus that became a booster for her alma mater’s women’s soccer team in the first year of the program’s existence in 2001. Since then, she has spent the last two decades helping to promote the women’s game both in Houston and beyond in a myriad of ways.
Perhaps Cooper’s most significant contribution to the women’s game is the creation of her website Keeper Notes, as well as an annual NWSL almanac, which she tracks, edits and publishes herself. She has gone on to become one of the most influential voices in women’s soccer and the go-to authority on WoSo history and records.
Since the establishment of the Dash, Cooper has held various positions in soccer broadcasting, including as an analyst for the Houston Dash from 2014-2016 and nationally for the NWSL Draft since 2016. Internationally, the Houston native joined NBC as a statistician for the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo and she was a researcher for FOX Sports at the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
According to former Houston Dynamos general manager and 2021 Orange Blazer Club inductee, Jen’s passion and knowledge of the sport were always apparent.
"After I was here for a year, I started coaching in the Houston Women's league,” Walker said. “I had a very small contact with her, but I thought she was one of the most knowledgeable people that was around the game. Not only about Houston, but about worldwide soccer."
Jen’s knowledge of the women’s game has made her an integral figure in the Houston Dash community ever since the team was first established in 2014. When she heard that she was being inducted into the Orange Blazer Club, Jen says that she felt similarly to knowing that Houston was getting its own professional team.
"The day that the club told me I was going to be inducted into the Orange Blazer Club gave me such joy — the same joy I felt back in 2005 when I heard Houston was getting an MLS team and in 2013 when the Houston Dash were announced,” Cooper said.
Houston Dynamo play-by-play announcer Glenn Davis, himself an Orange Blazer Club member, says that the honor was designed for people with the passion for the game like Jen.
“It is special, but for me was accepted on behalf of the entire soccer community and all those that have a passion for the sport, who have worked with youth and adults and faced challenges, found solutions and have laid the groundwork,” Davis said. “The Orange Blazer is symbolic to me of those that have played a part in the growing of the game and the awareness. Pure passion was the driving force.”
Jorge Figueroa is equally passionate about the game. A tireless advocate for the grassroots side of the game, he has dedicated more than three decades to expanding opportunities and access to soccer throughout the Houston community. According to Davis, Figueroa worked around the clock both administering youth and recreational soccer leagues and lobbying for fields to be built in the city.
When Jim Walker first met him, he could tell that his drive to work to grow the game came as a result of his fandom.
“Jorge, when I got here, he was connected mostly with the Houston Amateur Soccer League,” Walker said. “I remember with the pro team, he was a regular at the games and he always had some people around him. I was very aware of his influence on the amateur league getting fields for both the youth and the adults. I always considered him our number one fan. He was always there.”
Davis, who played on those Houston Dynamos teams under Walker remembers Jorge and passion for soccer in similar terms.
“Jorge and his love of the game was consistently on display through his running and administering of leagues in Houston that served countless teams and players,” Davis said. “Jorge was also an advocate of building more soccer fields in Houston. The builders of the game often go unnoticed, and this is why he is such a worthy addition to the Orange Blazer Club.”
For Davis, honoring people such as Jen and Jorge is crucial for all soccer fans throughout the city.
“We are a melting pot of people from around the globe and every nationality in our city has helped to platform the game forward and many of them like Jorge have done it selflessly,” Davis said. “To show credit is to show appreciation.”
Cooper and Figueroa will be formally inducted into the Orange Blazer Club and presented with their own custom-made blazers in July during 713 Weekend, when the Dash host the Kansas City Current on July 1 and the Dynamo host Charlotte FC on July 3.