SANTA CLARA, Calif. – In the early to mid-2000s, the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy combined to create one of MLS’ best rivalries.
With the Quakes finally flashing some of that old form for the first time since coming back into existence in 2008, can the California Clasico once again become one of the league’s best?
The latest piece of evidence regarding that question will be revealed Wednesday, when San Jose travel to the Home Depot Center (7:30 pm PT; watch LIVE online).
Quakes coach Frank Yallop has worked both sides of this street – with the Galaxy in 2006-07 and for San Jose from 2001-03, as well as 2008 to the present. He feels the pitch of recent battles has yet to reach the years when the clubs were wrestling for the top spot in their division or conference – or famously butting heads in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
“We were toe to toe the whole time, and I think that was the big rivalry,” Yallop said. “Obviously, the team went away to Houston and changed its name, so that [rivalry] kind of went away with that. I still think it’s in the fans’ minds that it is, but I don’t think it’s as rampant as it was in ‘01 to ‘05.”
For a player such as Chris Wondolowski, a Bay Area native, the idea of a meeting between a Northern California and Southern California teams not qualifying as a rivalry game is almost heretical – even if the MLS’ leading goalscorer will miss Wednesday’s match with US national team duty.
“I’m not sure if it really ever left,” Wondolowski said. “It’s always been a rivalry. It’s always been a battle, no matter where the two teams are in the table, and it’s going to be a battle for 90 minutes.”
From the perspective of Alan Gordon, a longtime Galaxy forward now plying his trade for the Quakes, LA’s rivalry with San Jose cooled a bit after the introduction of some new neighbors at the HDC.
“When I was with the Galaxy, there was some deep history, a deep rivalry with San Jose,” said Gordon, who played for LA from 2004 through 2010. “When Chivas [USA] came in, it took a little bit away from that. The focus was more on the LA rivalry. But [the Quakes-Galaxy rivalry is] still there. And the better and stronger a side we have here will just intensify it that much more.”
To that last point, this Clasico provides a bit of role reversal compared to the past four seasons’ worth. At 7-2-3, the Quakes are looking to cash in their game-in-hand on Real Salt Lake and vault back to the top of the Western Conference with a victory, while the Galaxy are mired in last place at 3-6-2 and winless in five games.
That said, the Quakes are 1-9-2 against the Galaxy at HDC, and 0-3-1 in their current incarnation.
“I can’t speak for Bruce [Arena, LA’s coach], but I think he’s just thinking it’s a game they’re trying to win, the same as us,” Yallop said. “I hate to keep saying the same thing, but it doesn’t change the way they go about it at all. They’ll want to win against a conference opponent, and so do we. So if we can go down there and get a good result, then that’s great for us.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.