Billboard adds fuel to Texas rivalry

It’s a shot fired clear across 200-plus miles of Texas, and confirmation that soccer is no exception to the bitter sports relationship between Houston and Dallas.

The Houston Dynamo are betting that a new billboard they carefully placed in the Dallas area will ruffle a few feathers and turn a few heads towards the club’s budding MLS rivalry with FC Dallas, and the plan seems to be working. The billboard — which officially went up Monday and depicts Houston’s two Philip F. Anschutz trophies next to the words, “Houston: two times better than Dallas” — is located on a stretch of tollway between downtown Dallas and Frisco, near the Trinity Mills Mall.

“We consider them our rivals because [of] the in-state portion, and I think Houston in general has a hatred for everything Dallas,” Dynamo Senior Vice President Rocky Harris told MLSsoccer.com. “This year, we wanted to get the passion out on both sides. On Facebook, we saw fans were talking up the rivalry. We thought we should tap into what the fans were saying.”

The message was received. Harris tweeted out a picture of the billboard on April 29, and FC Dallas retaliated against the Dynamo by flying a banner over Robertson Stadium prior to their match against D.C. United later that night. The response is just what Harris and the Dynamo are looking for while they build the rivalry between the franchises.

After the Dynamo relocated from San Jose in late 2005, the clubs' first meeting in 2006 - a 4-3 thriller at Robertson Stadium won by the Dynamo - seemed to spark a rivalry between the clubs. The in-state animosity boiled over in 2007, when Houston midfielder Ricardo Clark aimed a retaliatory kick at Dallas forward Carlos Ruiz and was suspended for the remainder of the season and playoffs. The teams then met in the postseason, with Houston taking a dramatic extra time win at Robertson Stadium and eventually claiming its second consecutive MLS Cup title. FC Dallas has always been a focal point for the ire of both the players and the fans in Houston. Nurturing and building this type of rivalry is key to building the league’s interest and brand, according to Harris.

“Our job is to tap into whatever the fans are feeling and thinking, and accentuate it,” Harris said. “I think across the league you see that, especially in the Cascadia area. That is the model for the future. The fans have to have those rivalries to make the sport grow. You need rivalries to build the MLS brand. In my opinion, I think fans have to be passionately opposed to other teams as much as love their club.”

Monday’s raising of the billboard is certainly a step in this direction for the Dynamo and FC Dallas. Harris’ tweeted picture of the billboard was popular enough to bump the recent royal wedding from the top trending spot on the social media format in Houston, evidence of the rivalry’s draw.

“We’re not going to let them one-up us with the plane,” Harris said. “We’re planning a few other tactics, and [FC Dallas] is too. We’ll be respectful of them and [the Hunt family], but it’s about us beating Dallas in every way.”

The clubs meet for the first time this season in Houston on May 28.

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Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.