Houston's Giles Barnes hopes the passion in the stands spurs the Dynamo to a derby win
Using the word "derby" to describe a sporting contest between local rivals can be traced all the way back to 19th-century England. The Texas Derby is a much more recent creation, of course, but it can already boast a tradition of intense and dramatic contests watched by large, noisy crowds.
"It's always a good atmosphere at the stadium—they're our twelfth man, so when it's going against us a little bit, a few challenges, a few decisions, they're always there backing us up. It can add to the spice," said the striker.
Barnes used to play for Derby County—the club from the British city that, according to one theory, gave birth to the term "derby" when neighboring teams there played each other on a regular basis.
The only history lesson that really matters to Texas soccer aficionados is that Houston are 9-4-7 all-time in regular-season fixtures against Dallas and 6-1-3 at home. The sole Dallas victory on Houstonian soil is a 1-0 win at Robertson Stadium in May, 2010. But Dallas did beat Dominic Kinnear's men twice last year in Frisco: 3-2 in MLS and 3-0 in the U.S. Open Cup.
With the teams in different conferences, Saturday's match is the only MLS meeting this season—unless both sides make it to MLS Cup, that is. "I enjoy these games, I wish we played Dallas more during the season but that's the way things have lined up. I think it brings out the best in players emotionally and in their competitiveness," said Kinnear.
Texas's two biggest metropolitan areas are about 250 miles apart and that relatively small distance means that a good number of visiting fans usually make the journey and enhance the atmosphere.
"I think both teams over the years have done a good job of bringing the traveling fans and bringing a little bit more excitement, a little bit more emotion to the game. I think that does filter down to the field. The fans don't play but they do have a part to play," added the Dynamo head coach.
For those on the field, it's about striking a balance: harnessing the extra energy and the boiling-point passion while keeping their cool and not losing focus. "Over the years we've had some fiery games," Kinnear said.
"Always the most important thing is the game and the result and not to get caught up in it. I don't think guys have. I think sometimes individuals get on each others' nerves on both sides of it but as long as the team perspective is the most important thing then you get through the game unscathed."
The Dynamo won their first two fixtures of 2014 before losing 2-1 to the Vancouver Whitecaps on the road last Saturday. "The goals we gave up were our own doing so that can be fixed, which is a good thing. It's not like we were being carved apart," said Barnes. "You saw our fight to get back and we had them on the ropes towards the end of the game as well so that's the never-say-die spirit of this team."
Dallas will feel they have a good chance of improving their record against the Dynamo. They have won three and drawn one of their first four games this season, scoring an MLS-high nine goals. Two have come from attacking midfielder Mauro Diaz, who on Thursday was named March's Etihad Airways MLS Player of the Month.
While the visitors have a couple of injury doubts, the only Dynamo player listed as out on the official injury report is defender Eric Brunner, who has a right ankle sprain. Winger Tony Cascio is edging closer to a return to action. The loan signing from the Colorado Rapids has not featured since opening day when he was forced off against the New England Revolution with a knee injury.
Whether he is involved or not, he is looking forward to his first Texas Derby experience and a reunion with new Dallas head coach Óscar Pareja, who was formerly in charge at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
"Tactically he just wants to play, one- and two-touch movement, defensively he wants to have his guys be tough. So it's going to be a physical game," said Cascio. "I think we're ready for it. The fans play a big part. I think it's huge, we play off that when we're out there and we hear the fans that have your back, it's huge, it helps a lot."
Saturday's match is the first of a BBVA Compass Stadium doubleheader for ticketholders, with new National Women's Soccer League franchise the Houston Dash scheduled to face the Houston Aces in a preseason game about 30 minutes after the destiny of El Capitan has been decided.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.