FRISCO, Texas – Dallas vs. Houston.
The rivalry extends throughout every sport in the Lone Star State on every level, from youth levels on up through the professional ranks.
But striving to be the best in Texas goes even deeper than the two teams that will square off this Friday (9pm ET; UniMás, match preview). The dislike starts at a young age with the clubs' academy teams, which face each other multiple times each season and are often competing for division titles.
‘We would go to Houston all the time; we didn’t really like it,” FC Dallas defender Moises Hernandez told MLSSoccer.com. “We didn’t like the drive or the weather. It’s more humid. Ever since we were younger, [Victor Ulloa] and I didn’t like going to Houston.”
Of the seven Homegrown Players on Dallas’ first-team roster, Hernandez and Ulloa currently contribute the most. Ulloa has started the club’s last 40 games, while Hernandez has played in 12 of the club's 16 games thus far this season despite getting called up to the Guatemalan national team.
They also both grew up in the Dallas area and played on local teams together, making them the most familiar with their intrastate rivals.
“We wanted to be the best team, first of all, in Texas, but also the nation,” Hernandez added. “It’s a rivalry match. Every time we play Houston, Dallas wants to come in front.”
Added Ulloa: “It hits home. It’s our heart. We grew up here, and we love this city.”
When current head coach Oscar Pareja was an assistant coach from 2005-2011 for Dallas, he played a big role in working with academy players. While his approach to every game is relatively the same, regardless of circumstance, he admitted that players in the clubs' academy systems are definitely in tune with the Texas Derby.
“They know it’s something special,” Pareja said. “That means a lot to the fans and the people, so they embrace the same idea. It’s growing all over. It’s not just in the first team, but goes through the levels of the academy, and the little kids – they know the rivalry already.”
The most competitive academy players from both clubs are currently in Westfield, Indiana, competing in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy playoffs after a regular season that saw Houston win the Frontier Division title at the U-18 level but FC Dallas finish first in the U-16 standings.
Their senior teams will meet at Toyota Stadium Friday night for the first time in more than two years, an especially welcome change for an FC Dallas club that has spent the last five weeks playing on the road.
“We haven’t played at home in a while, so I know fans will come out and really support us like they always do,” Hernandez said. “It’ll be great. If we get this win, fans will be with us throughout the whole game cheering for us.”
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The fans give the rivalry life as much, if not more, than the players do. While players tend to follow Pareja’s message of the game being just another chance for three points, it is the fans that fan the flames of the rivalry between games.
“Having that rivalry is great [for the fans],” Pareja said. “I think the people around feel some belonging and want to defend not just the club, but your city and community.”
Friday's game also gives FC Dallas the chance to clinch El Capitán, the 19th-century mountain howitzer awarded to the winner of the Dallas-Houston regular-season series, for a third consecutive season, so FCD's return home will have plenty of emotion.
“We want to win every game, of course, but a rivalry game is good to win, especially for our fans," said Ulloa. "They deserve to ‘crush the orange’ and keep the cannon. So we want to give them that.”