CenterLine Report: Headlines for the California Clasico

CenterLine Report shares the top stories for Cali Clasico

One of the great new features introduced to the Earthquakes website this season is the Benjamin Moore Paint the Picture hangout. Each week, a panel of television and radio media experts (and one interloping beat reporter) gathers to discuss everything Earthquakes, and at the top of each show, the panelists share their headlines.

Not wanting to wait for after the match this weekend, the CenterLine Report is going to get in on the action and share its headlines for this weekend’s upcoming California Clasico. They represent the stories worth following and the stories still developing as the Quakes ready for Saturday’s showdown at Stanford Stadium. This is the LA Galaxy coming to town after all, so everything is newsworthy.

1. Mark Watson makes home coaching debut

Since taking the reigns of the Quakes two weeks ago, interim head coach Mark Watson has led his team into two road matches, winning at Colorado and losing at D.C. United. With the Earthquakes back in the Bay Area, Watson gets his first chance to show off his coaching chops to the home supporters in Saturday’s Cali Clasico. And to say all eyes will be upon the former assistant coach is not hyperbole as close to 50,000 fans will fill Stanford Stadium to cheer on the Quakes.

“It’s great,” described Watson about the Earthquakes marquee summer match, “a big occasion, but I’ll be focused on the game preparing us to get three points.”

Certainly no stranger to what the crowd will have in store for him and the team, Watson is pleased that he’ll have so many people filling the stands cheering on the Quakes against the hated Galaxy.

“It’s a big rivalry for us,” Watson continued, “but to have those fans supporting us gives you that little extra lift.”

2. Chris Wondolowski pledges to give it his all ahead of U.S. national team call-up

Could the reigning MLS MVP play through the injury that saw him sporting a walking boot as recently as last weekend? With a nod, Wondolowski said yes, and he added that he could not imagine missing Saturday’s match.

“I’m very excited for the weekend,” Wondo said after a full training session playing with his sore right foot. “I love the atmosphere of these big occasions. It’s going to be a great crowd and our biggest rivals the Galaxy.” And would any amount of soreness keep him from participating? “No.”

Following the California Clasico, Wondolowski will leave the team for much of July as he was called up to the U.S. national team roster that will compete in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. However, always true to the Black and Blue, he is not looking past the Earthquakes match this weekend.

“I’m 100% focused on it,” he said emphatically. “I want to give everything I have, and I’m not going to save anything for later on. I’m going to put it all into this game.”

3. Surging Shea Salinas looks to continue strong run of form

While the Earthquakes failed to get a result last weekend in the nation’s capital, Shea Salinas looked sharp in his return to the starting line-up. Bombing up and down the sidelines as well as linking with his teammates, Salinas certainly made a case to get more playing time moving forward.

“Shea did great and did everything we asked of him,” assessed coach Watson. “He had a lot quality chances against D.C.”

And with the Galaxy coming to town, does Salinas feel ready to make it two starts in a row?

“Yeah, I feel great,” adding that he can’t wait to face their rival again. “As a team, we want to beat L.A. every time.”

4. Big Victor Bernardez is back in black (and blue)

“He’s had time to rest and trained with us for a couple days,” said coach Watson about his star centerback. “He looks good.”

When healthy and on the field, the hulking centerback is a big part of what makes the Quakes difficult to break down, and as he showed in last year’s match at Stanford Stadium, the Honduran can even chip in on offense. Who can forget his fantastic goal just before halftime that helped swing momentum in the Earthquakes favor against the Galaxy?

In this year’s match, it looks like Bernardez will partner in the back with the longest tenured Quake, Jason Hernandez. The pair is hoping to stem the tide of giving up early goals, and will look to the packed stadium of supporters to aid them in that pursuit.

“Any time you play in front of a very large crowd,” said Hernandez, “the adrenaline gets going and the blood starts flowing, and you feel the energy of being on a grand stage. It’s a great feeling and hopefully it carries quite a bit.”

Bernardez and Hernandez — the Killer Z’s — leaders on and off the field and the heart of the Earthquakes defense are finally back together again. A formidable opponent in the Galaxy awaits, but they are prepared for the challenge.

5. Robbie Rogers makes his Galaxy debut in the Bay Area

Perhaps the biggest story surrounding the Cali Clasico visitors is the return to the Bay Area of midfielder Robbie Rogers for the first time since his coming out earlier this year. A hero to many, Rogers became the first openly gay male athlete in U.S. professional sports when he debuted for the Galaxy earlier this month. The 26-year old Southern California native had retired from the game upon his original announcement, but he soon recognized that he still wanted to play, and in his hometown team the Galaxy he found that opportunity.

In an historic week for many in the local LGBT community, the appearance of Rogers in the Bay Area this Saturday is a cause for celebration. MLS, its players, and its fans have paved the way for the acceptance of all players, regardless of their sexual orientation. “If you can play, you can play,” has been the message urged by many Bay Area athletes, including the Earthquakes, and Rogers is here this weekend to give credence to that pledge.

Robert Jonas is a writer for CenterLineSoccer.com and SJEarthquakes.com. Send him feedback on Twitter: @RobertJonas