As with almost every other rivalry in football, in fact in any sport, there is a heady mixture of geographic, social, and sporting history that defines a fixture. Trong Nhan Doan writes about LA Galaxy vs San Jose Earthquakes
The California Clasico might be the only Major League Soccer fixture which carries the true meaning of a rivalry in football.
The fixture, featuring Los Angeles Galaxy and San Jose Earthquake, consists of two teams with a heavy mixture of geographic, social and sporting history.
It is hard to find any bitter rivalries in the MLS than those two. Franchises are discouraged to build its headquarter within the same territory. Fans show up to sporting events more for entertainment and maybe a break from online pokies, as opposed to showing off their identity. Meanwhile, history is something dubious for a league that consists of seven teams with five or fewer years in operation.
For that reason, Galaxy vs Quake is the premier fixture of the league. Both teams have been playing in the MLS since its inaugural season, barring the two seasons when the Quakes temporarily relocated to Houston in 2006 and 2007. Unlike the mild popularity that other teams are enjoying, Galaxy and Earthquake are beloved by the football-hardcore hispanic community in the states. Hence the term “Classíco,” which is commonly used to refer to other rivalries in Spanish-speaking countries.
Most importantly, they are a part of the historical Northen California vs. Southern California sporting and cultural rivalries. They are sometimes identified with opposing political positions, with Los Angeles (Southern California) viewed as representing conservatism and San Jose (Northern California) viewed as representing liberalism. Historically, rivalries have manifested prominently in the state’s professional sports including MLB, NBA, NFL or NHL.
One more characteristic that differentiates the fixture from the rivalry series is the relative proximity of the cities, which are about 360 miles (580 km) or a five to six-hour drive apart. It allows the rival fans to attend each other’s game, which is an uncommon practice in North American because of its tremendous size. As a result, supporters from both teams taunt each other with elaborate tifo displays and chants due to the passion and hate there is, and heightened security is used to ensure no violence between the opposing groups.
There was little interest in the first matches of the rivalry because of the league’s flat popularity. The Galaxy were a regular candidate for the championship, while then- San Jose Clash struggled to qualify for the playoffs. Los Angeles dominated, dropping only five games in the first 16 meetings.
It wasn’t until the turn of the century that the rivalry reached its peak. San Jose somehow landed its biggest star Landon Donovan, who had immediate success upon his return to the USA. Meanwhile, Los Angeles had always been a top candidate for the MLS title, finishing no worse than second in the conference during the regular season.
Between 2001 and 2005, Los Angeles and San Jose won a combined four MLS Cup titles with two each. This five-year period coincided with the league’s resurgence following the United States’ unexpected feat of reaching the last eight of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The fixture gained public attention as a result.
In 2001, both teams met for the MLS title, with San Jose walked out victorious courtesy of Landon Donovan and Dwayne DeRosario. The next year, Los Angeles finally won the title in front of the largest crowd in the history of football in the United States.
2003 saw both teams played in one of the greatest playoff matches in MLS history. Los Angeles won the first game 2-0 and scored a further two goals during the returning leg at San Jose within the first 13 minutes. However, the home team struck back, scoring five unanswered goals to pull off the improbable comeback to win 5-4 on aggregate. San Jose went on to win the championship, defeating 4-2 against Chicago Fire.
The fixture died down when San Jose relocated to Houston because of stadium and ownership issues. When the franchise revived in 2008, the rivalry didn’t get much attention because of the teams’ poor performance and the old school fans’ belief that the “real” Quakes has moved on following the relocation.
Violence hasn’t been much of an issue for the fixture. Although Earthquakes and Galaxy fans have tangled in the past, problems in the stands pale in comparison with the hooligans of international football, largely thanks to the sports culture in the United States.
The only known incident occurred in a 2012 regular season game. Several Los Angeles fans were arrested after violent altercations erupted in the stands and smoke bombs were set off during half time. Police, dressed in riot uniform, arrived and cleared the Galaxy supporters section during the game, albeit with no injuries reported.
Key games down the years
2001 MLS Cup final: It was the first part of the trilogy between Los Angeles and San Jose during the peak of the rivalry. San Jose completed a dream season after finishing last the year before, defeating Los Angeles 2-1 to win the title.
2003 MLS Western Conference Semifinals, Second Leg: Los Angeles struggled throughout the regular season, and barely qualified for the playoff as the lowest seeded team. However, the Galaxy unexpectedly defeated the No.1 seed, San Jose, 2-0 in the first leg. Carlos Ruiz and Peter Vagenes scored in the first 15 minutes of the returning game to make it 4-0 on aggregate, before the Quakes struck back, scored five unanswered goals to complete an epic comeback.
2012 MLS Western Conference Semifinals, Second Leg: In similar circumstances, San Jose entered this game as the defending Supporter Shield Champions, while Los Angeles was required to play a wild card game to qualify for the playoff. The Quakes, who were undefeated at home during the regular season, had a one-goal advantage for the second leg at San Jose. However, Los Angeles struck three times in the first half and hung on to win the tie. The Galaxy went on to win the MLS Cup, which was the final title of David Beckham’s career.
Landon Donovan: Regarded as the most decorated player from the USA, Donovan was also often referred to as the “American Luis Figo” due to the controversial circumstances of his defection from San Jose to Los Angeles. Donovan helped San Jose win two MLS titles, one against Los Angeles, during his three-year stint with the team before returning to Germany after his loan agreement expired.
However, Donovan couldn’t compete for a permanent spot in the starting eleven and therefore, decided to return to MLS and signed with the Galaxy. Many Earthquake fans felt betrayed and welcomed Donovan with a hostile reception upon his return to Spartan Stadium. Explicit messages such as “Judas”, “Traitor” were shown during the game. Donovan won four more MLS titles with Los Angeles before retiring in 2016.
Frank Yallop: The rivalry wouldn’t have become popular had Yallop turned down San Jose’s offer to become the head coach. The Quakes were a mess, finishing dead last the season before and appointed Yallop just two days before the MLS SuperDraft. Yallop turned the club around, winning two championships within his first three years in charge.
After an unsuccessful stint with the Galaxy, Yallop returned to San Jose. He led his team to two playoff appearances and the 2012 Supporters’ Shield. His combined 126 wins in two stints at the club is the most in team history.
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