CARSON, Calif. – There are rivalries in Major League Soccer, and then there is the one that will be renewed Saturday when the LA Galaxy take on the San Jose Earthquakes in front of a crowd expected to number more than 40,000 at Stanford Stadium (Time Warner Cable SportsNet, Time Warner Cable Deportes, AM 1150, 1330 AM, LIVECHAT).
To say these games have been special is putting it mildly.
“These games, historically, have been fun, entertaining, meaningful,” said the Galaxy’s Landon Donovan, who has been on both sides of these games, having been a member of the Earthquakes from 2001-2004 before joining the Galaxy in 2005.
View from the Booth
Saturday’s game has taken on a different look, however. Both clubs have struggled to live up to their high preseason expectations, with the Galaxy (7-6-3, 24 points) sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference. One season after winning the Supporters’ Shield, the Earthquakes (4-7-6, 18 points) have fared much worse and find themselves in eighth place in the West, ahead of only Chivas USA.
Things have gotten so bad in San Jose that Frank Yallop, the 2012 MLS Coach of the Year and one of six coaches in MLS history with 100 career wins, departed the club earlier this month in what was called a “mutual decision”. The Earthquakes were just 3-6-6 at the time of Yallop’s departure, including a 1-5-5 record in his final 11 games while also being upset in the U.S. Open Cup. Under interim head coach Mark Watson, a long-time assistant to Yallop who took over on June 8, San Jose is 1-1-0, beating Colorado 2-1 on the road two weeks ago before falling 1-0 to D.C. United 1-0 last weekend, a defeat that ended United’s 13-game winless streak.
But despite San Jose’s struggles this season, Donovan and the Galaxy, are quick to say they won’t be fooled come Saturday night.
“We expect to get their very best this weekend,” he said.
Whether the Earthquakes get the Galaxy’s best remains to be seen. Inconsistency has plagued the defending champion all season, as they have won consecutive league games just once this season. However, LA have shut out their last two opponents, Portland and Chivas USA, and had the better of the play in each of those games. Donovan said there is a bright side to the disappointment.
“We’re six points out of first place in the league, so we know we can be a lot better,” he said. “We know we can look back at a lot of games and say there’s a lot of points we dropped.
“I think right now we’re starting to figure out if we continue doing the right things that we’re going to start picking up points in a hurry and start moving up the table, and that’s the goal right now.”
Saturday’s game will mark the first meeting between the sides since last November’s Western Conference Semifinal Series, won by the Galaxy 3-2 on aggregate. San Jose had won the opener of the two-game series 1-0 in Carson, but the Galaxy responded with three first half goals, including two from Robbie Keane, in the rematch for a thrilling 3-1 victory.
“I think from a Galaxy standpoint last year,” said defender Todd Dunivant, another former member of the Earthquakes, “they thought they punched their ticket and we had other plans.
“That was huge, coming out and scoring three goals in the first half stunned them. It made a big statement.”
Outside of the departure of Yallop, the cast of characters for the Earthquakes on Sunday will be very similar to the team that LA eliminated last year. San Jose will likely be able to call upon forwards Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart as well as 2012 MLS MVP Chris Wondolowski.
The 2012 Golden Boot winner hasn’t lived up to his own lofty standards this year with just five goals on the season after tallying 61 goals over the past three seasons. Wondolowski has plenty of success against LA as of late, however, with goals in his last three regular season home games against LA.
Wondolowski, who like Lenhart, missed last weekend’s loss to D.C. United because of an injury, might be having an “off year,” but Dunivant expects the forward to give the Galaxy a challenge on Saturday.
“He’s having an off year everyone says, but he has five goals which is toward the top of the league,” said Dunivant of Wondolowski, who is the tied for tenth in the league in scoring this season. “He’s set such a high standard that anything other than that is a bit of a letdown in terms of the outside. But he’s still scoring and he’s still a handful for defenses. We’re not taking that lightly at all.”