CARSON, Calif. – There is a distinct sense of change in the air as the Galaxy prepare to take on Chivas USA in this season’s first edition of the SuperClasico on Sunday at The Home Depot Center (2 p.m., Time Warner Cable Sportsnet, UniMas, KWKW 1330, AM 1150, LIVECHAT).
From the Galaxy standpoint, two of their biggest stars are missing. David Beckham is now with Paris Saint-Germain. Landon Donovan has yet to return from his extended break from the game, although he’s expected to be back later this month.
From a Chivas USA point of view, changes are everywhere, starting with a fiery new coach in Jose Luis Sanchez, popularly known as “Chelis,” and a roster that has been almost completely revamped.
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Galaxy coaches and players understandably are quite curious to get a first-hand look at their in-stadium rivals, who won their first game last weekend with a 3-1 home victory over FC Dallas.
Galaxy central defender Omar Gonzalez admitted it’s been hard getting a handle on new-look Chivas USA. There will be more changes for the visitors on Sunday as well as they will be forced to play without defender Walter Vilchez. Perhaps the most experienced defender at Chivas USA having played 64 times for Peru’s national team and playing for Sola when he was coach at Puebla, Vilchez sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in the win over Dallas.
“Our meetings have been sort of; we don’t know what formation they’re playing,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a whole bunch of new players and a new coach.
“We’re really just going in there not blind but unsure.”
Head coach Bruce Arena agreed.
“It’s early in the year, so I don’t know how much I can gather on their qualities and personnel,” he said. “The same could be said our team. It’s really early in the season to figure anybody out, and I think we need more time.
“It’s apparent they’re an improved team. Their style of play is certainly different than it’s been in the past. We have to go out there and play well. We know it’s an emotionally charged game and it’s going to require us to play at our best for 90 minutes.”
There are two certainties about this annual showdown: tensions will be high and the Galaxy have owned the series. The two-time defending MLS Cup champions are 16-4-5 all-time against their co-tenants at The Home Depot Center. In fact, LA are 9-1-3 in the series since the start of 2008 and Chivas USA’s 2-1 victory over the Galaxy last May was the Goats’ first triumph over LA since a pair of 3-0 victories in 2007.
The Galaxy, however, did recover last season to take the second leg of the series 3-1 and later clinched their fifth consecutive SuperClasico title with a 4-0 victory as the road team.
Adding fuel to the fire this week have been comments by Sanchez, who told FutbolMLS.com he “personally dislikes” the Galaxy, who are playing only their second regular season game and just advanced to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals.
“We are ready and I can feel my players eager to play on Sunday,” he said.
So much the better, Galaxy players said.
“It always turns into pretty intense battles,” Mike Magee said. “We’re well aware this is a big game for them and we can’t take them lightly. We’re definitely looking forward to it.”
Added the Galaxy’s Robbie Keane, “It’s always good to play in these derby games. It’s always a good atmosphere and bragging rights [are at stake] for the fans.”