They've already faced each other a few times, but the Galaxy's Landon Donovan said he still gets a kick out of meeting up with his old coach, the San Jose Earthquakes' Frank Yallop.
They will renew acquaintances again Thursday night at The Home Depot Center, when the Western Conference rivals square off for the first time this season. The clubs have a return engagement Aug. 21 in San Jose.
Donovan and Yallop were with the Earthquakes from 2001-2003 and won a pair of MLS Cup titles together. Yallop then left to become coach of the Canadian national team, but they were reunited when Yallop was named coach of the Galaxy in July 2006. Yallop, however, left Los Angeles a little more than a year later to again coach the Earthquakes, who were returning to MLS as an expansion team following a two-year hiatus when the club moved to Houston.
"I'll see him tomorrow, probably before the game," Donovan said. "We'll hang out and say hi a little bit. Frank was the first coach that gave me a chance, and I'm never going to forget that."
Donovan said the biggest benefit he got from Yallop's coaching was the chance to express himself on the field.
"He just allowed me to play, first and foremost," Donovan said. "Initially, there weren't a whole lot of conversations. He just said, 'Go play. You're a good player, enjoy yourself.' And as time went on he taught me lessons that were important. Sometimes he didn't play me, and sometimes he would sit me down and talk to me if he needed to.
"For the most part he just let me be who I am, and that's why he's been successful."
Donovan said Yallop and Galaxy coach Bruce Arena are alike in a number of ways. One way in particular.
"It's the way they manage players. They're very good at it," Donovan said. "Over the course of a season, you have to give guys enough time and space to just be themselves. I think a lot of times coaches think things through too much or over-manage things, when with both of those guys they let you do what you do ... as long as you show up and act professionally.
"There's a very good respect level with both of them."
Donovan, asked if Yallop knows his weaknesses, smiled.
"Sure," he said. "He's seen me a lot over the years. Hopefully over the years those weaknesses are not as much a weakness as they once were. He's going to know as well as anybody everything about me."
Thursday's game against the Earthquakes could mark the return of veteran midfielder Dema Kovalenko, who has been out since April 10 with an upper right hamstring strain.
Kovalenko, who turns 33 on Aug. 28, did play in the U.S. Open Cup match against Seattle on July 7 (a 2-0 loss), but he hasn't played in an MLS game since the second game of the season against Chivas USA.
Kovalenko admitted the inactivity has been bothering him, to say the least.
"It's been a long time, a little frustrating," he said. "I knew it was going to be difficult. You could say I was starting at the beginning and I lost it because of my injury, but it's part of it. I have to work hard to get it back."
Kovalenko said the leg is not 100 percent yet, but it does feel much better. Fitness is a bigger issue now, he pointed out.
"When you don't play for 3 1/2 months, it's not easy," he said. "But I'm going to give it everything I have. I know what I can do. The fitness is going to come in a couple of weeks. I need a few more games and a little more training. I'll just work harder to get it back."
The view from anywhere other than the field is not something he prefers, he said.
"It's been very difficult," he said. "I want to be on the field all the time. I know I'm getting a little bit older, but I have a few more years left. I still want to play and compete. I'm a little bit smarter now and I know how to take care of myself and go from there.
"It's going to take a little more time."
The Galaxy's Chris Birchall, who faced off against fellow Trinidad and Tobago international Julius James, now with D.C. United, in last Sunday's 2-1 victory in Washington, D.C., will run into another familiar face on Thursday.
The game against the Earthquakes will mark the first MLS meeting between Birchall and San Jose's Cornell Glen, another member of the Soca Warriors. Birchall and Glen said they regularly keep in touch on their Blackberries.
"I haven't seen Cornell in a while," Birchall said. "He's a great player. If he starts tomorrow, he's going to be a big handful for the defense. I just hope we get the three points off of him."
The 29-year-old Glen was a member of the Galaxy in 2006 and even scored two goals in four games with the club before joining Birchall at the World Cup that summer in Germany. He returned to Trinidad and Tobago, where he played with San Juan Jabloteh from 2007-2009, and was signed by the Earthquakes on May 26, 2009. Glenn has played in 10 games this season, including two starts, and has one goal.
"Cornell is an out-and-out finisher," Birchall said. "Anything around the box he thrives on it. He's good at finding the back of the net, and he has pace as well. He's fast, good on the ball and can finish well."
Thursday's game kicks off one of the busiest stretches of the Galaxy's 2010 schedule.
On Tuesday at The Home Depot Center, the Galaxy will face the Puerto Rico Islanders in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League Preliminary Round series. Following the game, Arena and Galaxy All-Stars Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle, Omar Gonzalez and Donovan Ricketts head to Houston, where the MLS All-Stars will take on Manchester United on Wednesday, July 28. Those five then will fly back to Los Angeles on Thursday to begin preparations for an MLS game against the Chicago Fire on Sunday, Aug. 1 at home.
The return leg of the Champions League Preliminary Round with Puerto Rico will be on Wednesday, Aug. 4 in San Juan, with the aggregate goal winner of the series advancing to the group stage.
The team will return to Los Angeles on Aug. 5, one day after the game in Puerto Rico, and host Real Madrid at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, Aug. 7.