Down in Fresno on February 15 at Chukchansi Park, the main West Coast MLS rivalry, the California Clasico, gets a pre-season test run when the San Jose Earthquakes take on the LA Galaxy. Even though this is a preseason game, it’s already being dubbed the Central California Cup. Fans will travel. No one will take the result lightly.
Fierce rivalries like this are the lifeblood of soccer, they’re key to spreading and growing the game. There’s something about Quakes vs Galaxy games that’s almost as if the soccer gods have struck a deal with the TV companies for something special to happen.
There was the Quakes 3-2 win down in LA in May of 2012 that had San Jose fans refusing to leave the ground and dancing on the terraces using the police helicopter spotlight as disco lighting.
Just over month later at Stanford Stadium, David Beckham struck one of his picture perfect 30 yard signature free kicks to tie the game at 1-1. The Galaxy went in 3-1 up at halftime but, after a 2nd half that could have been scripted by a MLS promotional department, the Earthquakes ended up winning 4-3. Right at the end of the game Mr. Beckham even indulged in a bout of handbags with a gaggle of players along with the Quakes mascot Q. It’s not every day you get to see a soccer legend in a shoving match with a bright blue muppet.
In June of 2013, again at Stanford Stadium, there was Shea Salinas’s 92nd minute equalizer, followed by Alan Gordon’s extraordinary 93rd minute winner. The crowd of 50,000 went completely berserk, hysteria raged in the stadium, along with a few scattered showers of miserable disbelief from the Galaxy fans.
Not that these derby games go all San Jose’s way. Since 1996 LA have won 30 - scoring 94 goals, San Jose have won 21 - scoring 82 goals, with 17 games tied.
Both teams are currently in transition, trying to anchor themselves with experience while taking in untried young players. Grappling with the harsh truths of what looks good on paper doesn’t mean squat on grass.
Fun with numbers.
Just looking at the strikers, LA’s three oldest forwards, Donovan, Keane, and Friend have a combined age of 96 (average: 32). New boys Zardes, McBean, and Samuel’s combined ages are 63 (average: 21)
For the Quakes, Wondolowski, Gordon, and Lenhart have a combined age of 90 (average: 30), while relatively young bucks Schuler, Jahn, and Fucito’s combined ages are 75 (average: 25)
So the Galaxy have an older established striker line-up but the way these guys can put the ball in the net pretty much makes a mockery of their ages. On the youth side, Zardes continues to impress and improve, and it will be interesting to watch how 19-year-old McBean fares in the shadows of his elders.
Quakes head coach Mark Watson has been rebuilding the team forwards from defense, concentrating on midfield acquisitions. So the strikers this year are pretty much the same as were available last year.
The trick for both Mark Watson and Bruce Arena will be to balance how much they want to look at incoming players without throwing the game away.
Aging teams in transition are tricky things. Whoever gets it wrong is reviled and usually fired. (See David Moyes?) But get it right and you’re hailed as a managerial genius.