HOUSTON – Houston Dynamo forward Alberth Elis, nicknamed "La Panterita" ("the little panther"), may not be a superhero – but the Honduran’s skills may make one think otherwise.
With the game locked at 0-0 in the 69th minute, Vicente Sánchez whipped in a cross into the box. Elis — perhaps using those otherworldly skills — out-jumped Minnesota United FC defender Francisco Calvo to head it past the keeper for the game’s first goal.
Elis, whose usual goal celebration includes getting on all fours to prowl like a panther, used this moment to reveal his secret identity.
The Honduran ran towards the bench and got a Black Panther (the fictional Marvel superhero) mask from Dynamo assistant fitness coach Steve Fell. Elis proceed to put it on and strike a pose, which the fans at BBVA Compass Stadium gleefully enjoyed.
So how did the celebration come about?
Elis first mentioned the mask celebration to Dynamo staff back in August, but he raised concerns to them about possibly getting cautioned. His concerns were spot on. The ref handed Elis a yellow for delaying the restart of play.
“I bought it online and had it with me for the past couple of games,” Elis said. “I didn’t have the opportunity to score in the games when I had the mask. Today I was able to score so I had to bring it out.”
The goal, Elis’ tenth of the season, puts him in rare Houston Dynamo history. He’s the second Dynamo player to score in double digits in his first year with the club. The first to do it? Brian Ching.
Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera said that Elis’ celebration shows how the team is connecting the fans. And for as much as Cabrera scouted Elis before acquiring him via a year-long loan from Liga MX side Monterrey, he’s still surprised by how well Elis has played this season.
“I knew he had great potential to come over here and make a difference,” Cabrera said. “I didn’t know he was going to do it that quick and that good. We’re pleased. We’re really happy and happy for him because he’s having a very good year.”
Elis’ year-long loan ends when the Dynamo’s season ends, so certainly many fans are wondering: How soon should the Dynamo approach Monterrey about buying Elis outright?
“It wouldn’t be fair for me to [talk about] with what we’re working towards, to discuss any player’s contract situation during the season,” Dynamo Vice President and GM Matt Jordan said. “Our focus is making a push to the playoffs.”
Elis similarly insisted on staying in the present.
“Only time will decide [if I stay here in Houston],” Elis said. “I want to finish this tournament in the best form possible. Scoring goals and playing well.”