Houston's core of Honduran stars hoping to springboard into Gold Cup
Erick "Cubo" Torres leads the Houston Dynamo in scoring midway through the 2017 Major League Soccer season. The Mexican striker's revival after two moribund seasons in Texas is garnering headlines for Torres and praise for the man in overseeing his resurgence, Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera.
But anyone that has watched the Dynamo play in 2017 will tell you that Torres' return to the top tier of MLS goal scorers owes a lot to a pair of new faces wearing orange: Honduran attackers Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto. Bringing in a new wave of young Catrachos to go with veteran hand Oscar Boniek Garcia has proven to be a masterstroke on the part of Dynamo general manager Matt Jordan and has helped Cabrera guide his team into the playoff places halfway through the MLS campaign.
Elis and Quioto weren't the first Hondurans on the scene in the Bayou City. That honor belongs to Garcia, the rangy winger who joined the Dynamo in 2012. It's only natural to assume he had some influence on his countrymen in their decision to join the Houston cause.
"In the case of Alberth [Elis] I might have had some influence because he mentioned to me that there was a possibility for him to come here," Garcia told ESPN FC. "He asked me to talk to him about the city, the team mostly and how everything was here. I did not hesitate and told him to not think it twice, because he was going to have more chances to play here than on the team he was on. Also, that he was going to be able to score here."
When Quioto found himself out of contract in Honduras, he too decided to join the Honduran revolution in Houston. There's a common trait the pair share, one that Garcia brought up several times: speed.
"I told them to come because they were going to be a great asset to the team due to their speed and their skill up front," Garcia said. "I told them that it was going to be a tough league, that it was very physical, that sometimes the ref let the play keep going and sometimes they don't. That their speed was going to give them an advantage because some defenders are not as fast and their speed was going to help them."
Slow or fast, MLS defenders have struggled to keep up with Elis and Quioto through half a season. Stats don't fully capture the pair's total impact, but their numbers are impressive. In 15 appearances, Elis has scored six times and accounted for three assists. Quioto isn't far behind, with four goals and two assists in 12 matches. Garcia himself has chipped in three goals of his own in a season that has seen him play several positions due to injuries across the Dynamo roster. Usually deployed as an attacker, the 32-year-old veteran even filled in at right-back on two occasions.
The quick adjustment to the MLS game for Elis and Quioto came in part because of the comfort level that Elis and Quioto have in their new team and their new town. Houston has the third-largest Honduran community in the country, a fact that makes settling in all that much easier. Garcia stated the reality of cultural transition -- or lack thereof -- matter-of-factly.
"I didn't really mention [the culture] because they were coming to a city that is similar to our country."
While Quioto and Elis have distinctly different personalities -- the former is outgoing and gregarious, the latter more reserved, according to Garcia -- neither has found life in the U.S. or in the Houston locker room difficult. Garcia, himself once an up-and-coming star in the Catrachos side who has earned 117 caps since debuting in 2005, sees the future of his national team in the form of Elis and Quioto.
Elis will be the youngest player in Honduras's team for the Gold Cup tournament at 21 years of age. No nation other than the United States or Mexico has won the Gold Cup since Canada prevailed in 2000, but Garcia believes the goal for Honduras should be the championship.
"I think we have aspire to the highest level, which is to win the Gold Cup," Garcia said. "This has been a long process where we have been with the same head coach [Colombian Jorge Luis Pinto] and it's now or never for us to demonstrate everything we have worked with him."
For the Dynamo's Honduran contingent, the Gold Cup represents a chance to perform for their hometown crowd as members of their national team as the Catrachos' second group stage match against French Guiana will take place at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston. No doubt the Honduran community of Southeast Texas will turn out in big numbers to back Garcia, Elis and Quioto, but there should also be a strong contingent of Dynamo fans pulling for the Central American country because of the exciting group of Honduran players suiting up for their MLS side every week.
Garcia expects it to be a moving experience.
"It's very emotional because that's my home, it truly is my home," he said. "BBVA Compass Stadium has been my home for five years and it will be amazing to be with the national team on my second home.
"I think the fans are going to be on our side."
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.