Texas derby more important than ever as attendance dips for Dallas, Houston
Houston vs. Dallas; Dallas vs. Houston. It's a cantankerous relationship between two Texas cities that goes back as long as the line at a Luby's Cafeteria at noon on a Sunday.
Dallas has always seen itself as the more sophisticated of the two, with pristine Southern Methodist University nestled in the heart of the city, while Houston has the reputation of an outlaw, reflected by its lack of zoning laws.
The acrimony shared by these two end points on Interstate 45 filters down to sports as well. Cowboys-Oilers/Texans; Rangers-Astros; Mavericks-Rockets; and for the last decade-plus, FC Dallas-Houston Dynamo.
"When I think of Dallas, I think of rivalries, and how Houston is a blue-collar city, while Dallas is the more, well, posh city, I guess you could say," Dynamo goalkeeper and native Houstonian Tyler Deric told ESPN FC.
The soccer rivalry between Texas' big-city brethren got off to a predictably egregious start, as the Dynamo claimed MLS Cups in their first two years in Houston (2006 and 2007), much to the chagrin of FC Dallas fans who still are waiting for a league title. Since then, whether it was Ricardo Clark kicking Carlos Ruiz or Jair Benitez spitting on Geoff Cameron during a preseason game, the dislike between the two teams has only grown, of which the players are fully aware.
"It's win at all costs," Dallas native and FC Dallas midfielder Kellyn Acosta told ESPN FC. "Coming up with the youth teams, I didn't like the Dynamo at all. It was made clear that when you played against them, it was a must-win game, and I think that has translated to the pro level."
Yet 2017 is the first season since 2011 in which both teams are near the top of the standings. The Dynamo are experiencing a renaissance under new coach Wilmer Cabrera, who has reignited Erick Torres while adding the one-two Honduran punch of Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto. Up north, talent-rich FC Dallas is a title contender again, bolstered by the return of midfield wizard Mauro Diaz from injury.
With both teams situated in the top four in the Western Conference, Friday's contest at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston has added importance. "Games with Dallas mean a lot as it is," said Deric. "Now it means more. These games could make all the difference with seeding and home field in the playoffs."
What's a shame, however, is that few in Big D and Space City seem to be noticing. Just 14,148 turned up in the Dynamo's 22,000-seat stadium for the 5-1 thrashing of Real Salt Lake on May 31, which is consistent with the team's attendance during the losing seasons of 2014-16.
"Maybe it's the weather or the hangover from several bad years, but I think at this point this city has shown it is not going to come out week in and week out," said former MLSSoccer.com Dynamo correspondent and longtime Houston resident Darrell Lovell. "It didn't when the club was winning titles and it's not now. It's a sad fact, but at this point it's time to acknowledge that this is reality for soccer here."
The numbers are similarly disappointing in Frisco's Toyota Stadium, although construction of the National Soccer Hall of Fame has forced the club to temporarily downsize from 20,500 to 18,000 in capacity. Unlike Houston, though, there is more optimism about FC Dallas' chances of improving attendance.
"We believe FCD is gearing up for 2018 when the HOF is complete and they are back to full capacity," said Kenny Price, host of FC Dallas fan podcast The 19th Minute. "We also believe they will sign a marquee name for 2018, as they have been spending more and more on players each year."
For the supporters who do show up, the rivalry remains as intense as ever. Case in point was the decision made by FC Dallas to place a restriction on the number of Dynamo fans who can attend future matches at Toyota Stadium due to "unacceptable behavior" during the team's 0-0 draw on May 28 In Frisco.
Needless to say, the news went over in Houston as well as $20/barrel oil, thus making Friday's atmosphere in Houston all the more intriguing.
So while the attendance in Dallas and Houston is far from Cascadia levels, don't be fooled. The hostility felt between these two cities is capable of producing a great sporting spectacle from the two teams, and that's something every Texan can appreciate.
Arch Bell is based in Austin, Texas and covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .