The LA Galaxy have so dominated their SuperClasico series with Chivas USA that the rivalry has lost some punch.
The Goats (1-1-2) have beaten their StubHub Center landlords just once in 20 meetings dating to the start of the 2008 season, are 4-20-7 in all encounters, and have dropped 4-0 and 5-0 decisions to the Galaxy (0-1-1) the past two years.
Something was needed to shake things up, and Chivas USA has done that, with a change in management and a significantly upgraded roster that has caught their archrivals' eye. It leads to an intriguing showdown Sunday afternoon, a match that LA hopes can reignite the Superclasico and guide it toward being a true derby.
“My impression this year of Chivas is they're much better,” Landon Donovan said this week. “The game Sunday is going to be a difficult game. They're much more organized, they have some playmakers, and if that continues, that's better for the rivalry.”
Captain Robbie Keane calls them “a different Chivas, certainly, from the last couple of years” and praised their “stability,” “strong core of players” and a “good solidness about them.” Mauro Rosales' presence on the right flank has impressed the Galaxy, and Donovan says striker Erick “Cubo” Torres is “completely underrated,” “fantastic” and “one of the best forwards in our league.”
Now it's about getting Chivas' fans excited. The Goats, the home team Sunday, announced attendances above 10,000 just twice last year -- the high was 14,575 for the June 23 SuperClasico -- while averaging just 8,366, and those numbers skewed high; there often were fewer than 5,000 on hand for games. This year's announced numbers: 8,320 and 6,684.
A full house makes the Clasico more classic.
“They're special if you've got 28,000 people there. When there's 7,000 or 8,000 people, it's a little bit different,” said Keane, who has played in three huge derbies: Tottenham-Arsenal, Liverpool-Everton and (the best of the three, he says) Celtic-Rangers. “To create a rivalry, it's not just about the game. I think it's about the whole buildup to the game, the whole atmosphere, and the atmosphere comes from people coming out, the fans watching the game. I like it when there's 28,000 people there, because I'm brought up with that. That's why I play. Week in and week out in England, 60,000 or 70,000 or 80,000 people, and the atmosphere builds, and that's why people get excited for the game. When there's 6,000 people, it's very difficult to get yourself up for a game like that.”
The rivalry was at its best from 2006 through 2009, when Chivas under Bob Bradley and then Preki went to the playoffs four straight seasons, won a Western Conference regular-season title and finished above LA the first three years in that span. In 2009, they faced off in a playoff opener the Galaxy captured en route to an MLS Cup title-game appearance.
“The playoff series was the best, and the year when Bob was here was the most difficult, so that for me was the most enjoyable year,” Donovan said. “That was before Sacha [Kljestan] moved [to Anderlecht in Belgium], and he was really playing well, Jonny Bornstein was in his prime, [Brad] Guzan was here -- those games were legitimately difficult.
“And before and since, it's been a little bit lopsided, but I think we're very aware this is a different [Chivas] team this year. Most of us, I think, watched the game [at New York, a 1-1 draw] last week, a game they should have won. They're a much better team.”
Chivas' first-choice lineup has only six returning players -- goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, center backs Carlos Bocanegra and Bobby Burling, right back Eric Avila (in a new position), holding midfielder Oswaldo Minda, and Torres up front -- and has prospered most by the addition of Rosales, an Argentine winger acquired from Seattle during the offseason.
"Rosales is a terrific player, there's no question about that,” Arena said. “Experienced player in this league, a well-established player and a quality player that I think it's obvious he's impacted the team. Whenever you bring a quality player into your XI, it's only going to help your team.”
And that helps the rivalry.
“There's obviously going to be that natural competitiveness because [of geography],” Donovan said, “but you need really good games, too. And maybe Sunday is one of those. Maybe it's a great game. ... Hopefully, with the new ownership with Chivas, it keeps building and getting better and better and we can make it a better and better rivalry.”