Eddie Robinson El Capitan
Wilf Thorne / Houston Dynamo

Houston Dynamo players hope Western Conference move adds life to FC Dallas rivalry

It’s a Civil War-era replica cannon, it symbolizes Texas pride and sporting prowess, and the Dynamo want it back.

The quest to return El Capitán to its rightful home in Houston begins on Friday night as FC Dallas visit for the first of three regular-season derbies (7 p.m. CT; TICKETS).

The Dynamo’s move to the Western Conference promises to ratchet up the rivalry, adding two more MLS fixtures between the clubs to the slate this year. Both will come in Frisco, in June and October — but defender Kofi Sarkodie isn’t ruling out a repeat of 2007, when the Dynamo destroyed Dallas 4-1 after extra time in the playoffs for a 4-2 aggregate victory en route to the club’s second successive MLS Cup.

“The three games will definitely be high momentum. I think the West is tough now from top to bottom. Everyone’s good. The better both teams perform throughout the league and [if they] see each other in the playoffs I think it’s going to make it that much more of a rivalry, for sure,” he said.

It’s logical: matches between the teams tend to be replete with drama, intensity and spicy challenges, so the more the sides meet, the more room the rivalry will have to grow. New narratives and personal battles will sprout with each encounter, adding layers to what’s long been an enmity predicated on geographic proximity and the eternal culture clash and one-upmanship between Texas’ two biggest metro areas.

Especially when the teams are vying for supremacy in the same conference and aware that later this year the road to MLS Cup might just require a trip along I-45.

The cannon is the quirky trophy awarded to the series winners. For the past two years that’s been Dallas, who are riding a streak of four straight victories: two in MLS and two in the U.S. Open Cup. Oscar Pareja’s side will arrive in East Downtown feeling confident after a strong start to the season that sees them second in the conference with a 4-2-2 record.

But Sarkodie has a message for the visitors to BBVA Compass Stadium: this is our state and this is our house. “It’s just getting back on the front foot with them and letting them know that when they come to Houston and we go to Dallas that we’re going to get results.

“I think in the last two years they’ve been able to beat us in Open Cup, beat us here at home and those are things that we’re basically going to look to improve on and put a stop to because at the end of the day, whether we’re playing Dallas or New York or Seattle, when it comes to our home at BBVA Compass we want to make sure we’re getting results,” he said.

“That’s what we want to continue so that teams know that when they’re coming to Houston it’s going to be a very difficult battle. I think so far we’ve set the tone here and that’s what we need to keep doing throughout the length of the season.”

Striker Will Bruin scored his first goal of the campaign in the extraordinary 4-4 draw with Sporting Kansas City last weekend and is expecting a bruising but chance-laden encounter. “It’s going to be a fight and there’s always drama,” he said. “They’re a very high risk, high reward team and they’re going to send numbers forward… If we keep the ball and we’re smart when we go with it there’s going to be a lot of opportunities.”

Captain Brad Davis agrees, believing that the Dynamo need to be wary of Dallas’ attacking potential but should expect to carve out opportunities. The midfielder was in the Houston starting lineup for the epic 2007 extra-time match, along with current Dynamo coach Wade Barrett, while left back Corey Ashe was an unused substitute.

“We remember Robertson completely full and they gave them white towels, everybody waving white towels. It was an amazing, amazing atmosphere, everybody’s on their feet and going crazy and you can’t help but get up, get the chills and get ready for a game like that. The fans were definitely into it,” Davis recalled.

The most recent MLS fixture, at BBVA Compass Stadium on April 5 last year, was a strange night. The score was level at 1-1 and the Dynamo seemed in control until David Horst’s 60th-minute red card transformed the match and Dallas scored three quickfire goals. While the Dynamo ultimately missed out on the postseason, Dallas qualified, losing on away goals to the Seattle Sounders.

Davis wants the Dynamo’s performance on Friday to make a statement about the team’s improvement. “We weren’t playing up to our expectations and we know that and we have a different feel this year,” he said. “So far I think we’ve done a pretty good job of building something back special this year and hopefully this weekend’s a game that we can continue that.”

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.