In every rivalry there's a player that serves as a lightning rod for extracurricular activity.
Any doubt of who that is in the Texas Derby was put to bed Saturday night when perpetual culprit Jair Benitez livened up the festivities - and paved the way for his team's 2-1 defeat to the Houston Dynamo.
The FC Dallas fullback initiated the fireworks with a 63rd-minute elbow to Colin Clark’s head that prompted an intense reaction from both sides. Players went chest-to-chest and Jermaine Taylor put Dallas captain Daniel Hernandez in a headlock while everyone else exchanged shoves.
The incident was indicative that, no matter how much respect the two sides have for each other, there is always room for a little bad blood when rivals clash.
“I think it’s a good rivalry but if you look at it it’s been the same person every game,” said Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis. “I haven’t seen a replay but from what we heard it was a legitimate red card. It’s good for our guys to keep their heads. We had to keep playing and we did and came out on top.”
Benitez has a reputation for drawing attention to himself, especially in clashes with the Dynamo. His red card will mark the third time the defender has received a suspension resulting from a match with his orange-clad neighbors.
“I think there are certain individuals, for both teams, who possibly get under the skin of each other and it reared its ugly head with the red card,” said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear. “After the red card, I guess it wouldn’t be a normal game between these guys without a coming together of the players and getting into each other’s faces.
“It’s always pretty heated,” the Dynamo boss continued. “The way the game was going it was pretty mild but that became a flashpoint and raised the intensity for about a good five minutes there.”
Benitez’s foul is the type of play that would have gotten the Dynamo in trouble a year ago. The 2011 version of the side were prone to strong reactions - and payback.
But outside of the resulting dust-up, where both teams were lucky to escape further punishment, Houston kept their cool and made Dallas pay with a 76th-minute Adam Moffat winner.
For Houston, a club that understands the temptation to fall prey to gamesmanship, it was a sign that the 2012 version is a more mature group. That trait played huge Saturday night.
“It got to a point last year where it was hurting us a lot,” Moffat said. “We spoke about it and the run at the end of last year we focused on it a little bit more. You can get the upper hand and don’t have to wonder what they’re doing. If you do you miss the rest of that game and miss the next one.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.
HIGHLIGHTS: HOU vs DAL