It may not be like the old days, but no one is discounting the rivalry between the LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes.
The Western Conference adversaries meet Thursday night at The Home Depot Center with little on the line, except for the Galaxy hoping to keep their firm grip on first place in the conference and the Earthquakes trying to continue their surprising climb up the standings.
There used to be a time when the rivalry between the clubs almost was antagonistic. Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant, who played in San Jose in 2003 and 2004 and was traded to Los Angeles in 2005, still remembers those days well.
"It was intense," he said. "I was on both sides, so I really know how it was. They (the fans) loved me when I was there, but they hated me ... and I mean hated me... when I went back with the Galaxy. If anyone remembers Landon (Donovan), when he first went back to San Jose in 2005 with L.A. it was really nasty.
"These days it's a little bit different than what it used to be. They left for a couple of years, and now they're back, so there's still that California rivalry. I think it will heat up a little bit this time around."
The Galaxy are 24-14-6 all-time against the Earthquakes, including 15-4-2 in Los Angeles. The Earthquakes haven't won in Southern California since a 3-1 victory on Oct. 15, 2005. The last meeting between the clubs was the 2009 regular season finale at The Home Depot Center last Oct. 24. The Galaxy won that game 2-0, to clinch a first place regular season finish in the Western Conference, their first since 2002.
The Galaxy's Chris Klein said he doesn't think Earthquakes coaches and players will have any retribution on their minds Thursday -- "No, they were a team looking for an identity last year," he said -- but Dunivant isn't so sure. Dunivant said he saw a story out of San Jose, just before the Galaxy played at Toronto FC on June 26, which reportedly said the Earthquakes players already had this week's game circled on their calendars.
"I think they had five teams to play before they got to us," Dunivant said. "They were talking about our game and trying to keep pace with us."
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena admitted he doesn't exactly know what to make of the rivalry between the franchises, having arrived in Los Angeles in August of 2008. In his opinion there was no bigger rivalry than Mexico when he coached the U.S. National Team, but he does realize the Earthquakes-Galaxy matchup does hold special meaning in these parts.
"Every game is important, and certainly this one is as well," Arena said.
"There are a lot of storylines to follow," Klein pointed out.
One of the most popular ones was the 2003 Western Conference Semifinal Series, in which San Jose rallied from a 4-0 deficit on aggregate to win and go on to beat the Chicago Fire in the MLS Cup.
"I think that's where the rivalry really started," Klein said. "You throw in Landon leaving, then coming back with L.A., the proximity of the clubs, and it makes for a very good rivalry, one we look forward to and like playing in."
Arena said the ill will that once existed between the franchises isn't the same, but it's not that far off.
"Maybe it's watered down a bit with the addition of Chivas USA," Arena said. "But I know there are a number of players that still understand and appreciate the competitive rivalry. We know how important this game is. We know how good San Jose is and how much they've improved from last year."