Editor's note: This piece originally ran on Aug. 27, 2016 and has been updated to reflect events since.
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 2017 quest for "El Capitan" continues on Friday night at BBVA Compass Stadium (9 pm ET; UniMás, Facebook Live in the US, MLS LIVE in Canada).
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,” former Dynamo 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 only reclaimed it in 2016 thanks in large part to a 5-0 whitewashing of FC Dallas in the first of their three regular-season meetings on the year.
This year, the face for El Capitan is wide open after the two teams drew 0-0 at Toyota Stadium on May 28. Should each team win one of the two remaining regular-season meetings, then the trophy will be awarded to the team with the better goal differential. If they're level there, then any potential US Open Cup and playoff meetings will be factored in.