Rivalry games have a tendency to be consumed by things other than actual play on the field. With the battle going on in the stands -- and in the case of the Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas, in the front offices -- there is a tendency to lose focus on the task at hand.
That is not the case this weekend for Dynamo players and coaches. With their eyes firmly on the playoffs, the Dynamo are concerned with improving their position for the playoffs. Any collateral benefit or enjoyment that comes from beating their in-state rivals would be icing on the cake.
“The rivalry takes a back seat,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear. “We want to beat them, and it’d be good to say, ‘Yeah, we beat Dallas,' and things like that, but at this point of the season, you’d take three points over winning El Capitán, so to say.”
Houston enters the weekend tied with the Philadelphia Union for the third and final automatic qualifying spot in the Eastern Conference and just two points out of first place. Needless to say, at this point, no game is more important than another.
“It’s Dallas, and we have an in-state rivalry going, but right now we have a rivalry with every team we’re playing, because we’re trying to get points,” said midfielder Brad Davis. “However, the fans are going to be into it and make the trip, and they’re going to want us to beat Dallas, and there’s no better time to do it.”
Beating Dallas would be for more than just the fans. Despite it not being the most important thing at stake, there is a rivalry between the clubs.
Houston and Dallas have a competitive history on the field. The battles have usually been physical, and each club has enjoyed times on top of the rivalry. Houston has the biggest victory in the series, which came in the 2007 playoffs. The Dynamo rallied from a two-goal aggregate deficit in the second leg of that playoff series, scoring four goals in the final 75 minutes to eliminate Dallas 4-2 in extra time on their way to a second straight MLS cup.
Dallas has won El Capitán in two of the last three seasons -- though they did so without winning a game in the series in 2008 -- and is unbeaten in the clubs' last four competitive meetings. The teams also met twice in February, with Houston winning the preseason opener in Corpus Christi and Dallas taking the Disney Pro Soccer Classic on penalty kicks.
All that history and vigor will take a back seat this weekend, when Houston makes the roughly 270-mile trip north; where priority Number 1 is taking another step toward the playoffs.
“It’s just another game,” said captain Brian Ching. “They’ve had our number the past two years, and it’s a big opportunity for us to get three on the road. Hopefully we come out and put them under pressure. They’ve played a lot of games ,and we know what that feels like, so the harder we can make the game on them, the better our chances.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.