FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo battle it out every year for what is arguably the most distinct “trophy” among all the MLS rivalries: "El Capitan."
It's a Civil War-era Howitzer which is housed by the Texan MLS team with the best head-to-head record every year. The 2016 quest for "El Capitan" continues on Saturday night at BBVA Compass Stadium (7:30 pm ET; watch on MLS LIVE).
It's a rivalry that was born instantly when the Dynamo relocated from San Jose to the Space City ahead of the 2006 season. That's because no matter the sport, Houston and Dallas continuously rival for supremacy in the state of Texas. And a big-time rivalry demanded an even bigger trophy.
And so "El Capitan" was born — the brainchild of the FC Dallas front office to go out and purchase the cannon from a man in Missouri and bring it all the way back to Frisco. But in the early years of the rivalry, the cannon sat dormant – little more than a marketing gimmick.
Houston kept possession during the first two years of the rivalry, and “El Capitan” had a fairly permanent home down south. But the Dynamo, playing at Robertson Stadium on the campus of the University of Houston, were by law not allowed to fire the cannon, relegating it to a corner of the stadium out of sight. It was only when FC Dallas won it in 2008, fairly bizarrely on away goals, that the howitzer began to take on a life of its own.
Dallas prominently displayed “El Capitan” on the stage at Toyota Stadium, and went through the local fire department to get a front-office employee authorized to fire the cannon. They took full advantage of the new toy, shooting it off after every goal and every win. While there are certainly historic rivalry trophies around the league such as the Cascadia Cup and the Rocky Mountain Cup, only the cannon can be used year-round as a reminder of who is on top in the regional rivalry.
Perhaps having seen their rivals to the north fire it off one too many times, Houston would make amends in their new stadium. The move of the Dynamo to BBVA Compass Stadium turned the tide in the importance of “El Capitan” to the Houston faithful.
Having won the cannon in 2011 on a late Geoff Cameron goal in Frisco, the Dynamo secured a permit in early 2012 to fire the howitzer in their new stadium and they took full advantage, integrating the trophy into their gameday experience. It became a BBVA Compass Stadium tradition to wheel the cannon to the middle of the field before every game and have a Dynamo celebrity shoot “El Capitan” off before kick off – similar to FC Dallas' tradition of scarfing the Lamar Hunt statue.
“They don’t let us play with the cannon,” goalkeeper Tally Hall joked to MLSsoccer.com ahead of 2012's lone meeting between the clubs. “I’ve written a formal request to play with it on my own free time, but I guess they didn’t get it. It’s a big deal. It’s something the fans are proud of, they sing songs about it and it makes it a big deal for us.”
But after that 2012 season, the Dynamo relinquished "El Capitan" to FC Dallas and have yet to see it again since.
This year, however, Houston are in pole position to claim back the trophy with their 5-0 whitewashing of FC Dallas in the first of three regular-season meetings this year.
FCD could only draw the Dynamo 1-1 at Toyota Stadium in June, and while Dallas edged Houston in a dramatic US Open Cup showdown in July, the terms of the rivalry state that Open Cup and playoff meetings only factor into the howitzer's final destination if the regular-season series is tied on both record and goal differential.
That means that FC Dallas need to win Saturday's game by more than five goals to claim "El Capitan" on the first tiebreaker. If Dallas win by exactly five goals and the teams do not meet in the playoffs, then the US Open Cup result will tip the season series in FCD's favor. The results of a Dallas-Houston postseason matchup this fall would also only be factored in should Dallas win by exactly five goals this weekend.