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Wilf Thorne/Houston Dynamo

Houston Dynamo enter derby match treating "every game as if it's a final"

Making a substitute appearance in last month’s Texas Derby was the latest chapter in a longstanding rivalry with FC Dallas for Houston Dynamo midfielder Memo Rodriguez.

“When I played in the Academy, we always had a rivalry with Dallas and always wanted to beat them,” said the 22-year-old Homegrown player, who grew up near Houston. “These games are special, these are the ones that you remember, especially if it’s a hard-fought match and you get the three points at home.”

Houston and Dallas played to a dramatic 1-1 draw on July 21, the fourth successive one between the state rivals. Now, the Dynamo are in dire need of a victory on Thursday when they again host Dallas at BBVA Compass Stadium as part of Heineken Rivalry Week (8 p.m. CT | TICKETS).

With the Dynamo down in tenth place in the Western Conference, Joe Willis believes Thursday’s encounter is a must-win. “We find ourselves in a difficult spot right now so we have to treat every game as if it’s a final,” the goalkeeper said.

“No matter where we are in the standings or where Dallas is in the standings, whenever the two of us play each other, it’s an intense game, it’s a rivalry game, it’s a game we hate to lose. If we get a result out of this it can definitely jump-start us and push us, give us a little confidence going forward.”

Houston are on a five-match MLS losing streak that equals an unwanted club record, and has turned a playoff berth from a strong possibility to a long shot, though a penalty shootout victory over LAFC secured a first-ever Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final appearance (against the Philadelphia Union on September 26) amid their league woes.

Dallas scored first last month through a Matt Hedges header after 54 seconds, only for Mauro Manotas to equalize seven minutes later. The visitors wasted a chance to retake the lead when Willis saved Roland Lamah’s second-half penalty, then Manotas had a strike ruled out for offside by a Video Review. There was still time for Lamah to hit the crossbar from close range.

A win on Thursday and avoiding defeat when the sides meet again at Toyota Stadium on September 1 will ensure the Dynamo retain El Capitán, the replica 19th-century cannon that’s the prize for victory in the season series.

Dallas sit atop the Western Conference, three points ahead of second-placed Sporting Kansas City, but that doesn’t mean that Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera feels apprehensive about facing opponents managed by his former Colombian national side teammate, Oscar Pareja.

“I don’t know what the reason is, could be mentality, but we’ve played better games against the toughest opponents,” Cabrera said.