Houston Dynamo's new Zona Naranja proves a hit with supporters


Sunday’s nationally televised match between the Houston Dynamo and the Seattle Sounders showcased two of the league’s most intriguing (and some might say confounding) teams, ending in a 1-1 draw. But it also showed off some exciting developments for fans of Houston, the home team that night.

After a series of off-season meetings with club officials, Dynamo supporters' groups moved from two sections along the end line on the stadium’s southwest side, which they were in danger of outgrowing. Now they've got new digs, the Zona Naranja, a more spacious upper deck underneath the scoreboard at the opposite end of the stadium, encompassing Sections 215-217.

It was a trade-off that the supporters groups determined had net positives. There would be opportunities to create tifo that could be seen throughout the stadium, and even more importantly, there would be a chance to accommodate more supporters than the 500-ish that the original section provided.

Three home games into the season–including a pair of heartbreaking wins-turned-draws, sandwiching a delicious 5-0 romp over rivals FC Dallas in the Texas Derby–the new Zona Naranja is not only new. By many supporters’ accounts, it's also providing an experience that's improved.

“I think moving up to the 200s has changed the dynamics for the better,” said Manny Gutierrez, one of the leaders for El Batallon, the barra-styled supporters group that stands in the center section of the new Zona. They're responsible for the brass instruments and drums that play almost continually throughout the match. “It’s not people who might be buying tickets just to get cheap, close seats. The people coming here want to be actively involved.”

While most of the Dynamo supporters buy season tickets to sit in the Zona, the available single-game tickets allow potential new supporters to chant and stand alongside more seasoned supporters. That allows for the increased participation at which Gutierrez hinted.

Faith Stringer, a Texian Army member who drives two hours from Bryan-College Station (best known as the home of Texas A&M University), concurred. “I think the view’s much better, and I feel like we’re much more noticeable,” she said. Pointing to her wide-brimmed hat, she added, “The sun’s not great, though.”

The Zona is backed by a giant scoreboard and thus doesn’t have the overhang that the opposite end of the stadium has to shield from the elements. Home matches from mid-April to October offer more forgiving evening start times to keep fans from overheating, but supporters have sensibly negotiated water coolers in the Zona to make sure they’re getting enough water.

“Dehydration can sneak up on you really quick, especially when you’re chanting at full volume throughout a match,” said Chris Smink, the former Texian Army president, who’s gone beyond mere tents to shop fans and generators at some summer tailgates.

“The fans are definitely enjoying it,” said Houston Dash managing director Brian Ching of the new Zona. Ching has been instrumental in bringing supporters and team officials together to remake the supporters section into an anchor for stadium-wide atmosphere. And he noted that despite some early trepidation about change, he said “95 percent of what we’ve heard is positive, and we’re continuing to work with the fans to make it even better.”

It’s clear that the organization is taking a role in pumping up the crowd. The PA system jump-started the “Forever We Are Orange” chant that is the Dynamo go-to, as the team lined up to start the match. And then, the Zona Naranja supporters took it from there.

They kept the chant going through the kickoff and, accompanied by incredibly emphatic trumpets and trombones, well into the match’s eighth minute. And when Giles Barnes scored in front of the supporters late in the first half, they broke out a giant orange, back, and white version of the Texas flag–current Texian Army president James Hromadka describes it as “car dealership big”–and unfurled it over the whole section.

It’s a tradition that they’ve gone to since BBVA Compass Stadium opened in 2012. But now, it’s become a bigger and more visible tradition that ever before.