CARSON, Calif. — A SuperClasico is the type of game where the records go out the window, the type of match that is won and lost on grit, talent and determination. Sunday’s battle between the LA Galaxy and their cross-hall rivals Chivas USA will be more of the same.
The Galaxy are tied with the Colorado Rapids for fourth place in the Western Conference, just a point ahead of the sixth place San Jose Earthquakes, but they’ll take on an opponent with little to play for. Little that is except for pride, which is a dangerous thing to play for. Currently, the Galaxy lead the season series with their in-stadium rivals, taking four points from the opening two games, winning 1-0 as the road team on June 23 and playing to a 1-1 draw as the home side back on March 17.
Chivas USA may already be eliminated from postseason consideration, sitting last in the West with just 26 points, but the Rojiblancos are a much different than team than the one that LA faced earlier this season. Since the appointment of head coach Jose Luis “El Guero” Real in early June, Chivas have gone 3-9-6 in league play, including their 1-0 loss to the Galaxy, which was Real’s second game in charge of the club. But under his direction, they’ve developed into a regimented group that is a far cry from the haphazard team that they at the beginning of the season under Jose Luis Sanchez Sola.
One Galaxy player that is familiar with Sunday’s opponents is midfielder Laurent Courtois, who made two appearances under Real before being released by Chivas USA in late June and was subsequently picked up by LA a few weeks later.
“The club is doing much better at the soccer level,” said Courtois, who made 34 regular season appearances for Chivas USA after debuting for the club in 2011. “They have clear ideas of how they want to play and what they want to do. I think that they’re going to be really organized with a clear idea of how to handle us. We’re going to have to be really sharp because they want to get a victory.”
Said Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, “They’re doing a really good job and they’ve got a good group. In my contact with their new coach, I can see that he has a good attitude and personality. They're a team that is certainly is a little bit more comfortable in where they are and where they’re going.”
Chivas’ organization stems from a formation change that has seen the team transition from a 3-5-2 to a more orthodox 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1 with holding midfielders providing greater stability in front of the back four that is anchored by center back Carlos Bocanegra and goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. When the Rojiblancos take on the Galaxy, it’s likely that Edgar “El Chore” Mejia will be charged with breaking up LA attacks in the final third as the defensive midfielder in front of the back line.
Regardless of their organization, the Galaxy expect a gritty match with a team that may or may not be one of their chief rivals.
“I don’t see much rivalry like people say. I think that we have other teams who are bigger rivals than Chivas. For sure, they have nothing to play for and I’m sure the guys over there are going to want to make our lives terrible,” said midfielder Marcelo Sarvas. “They want to win and prove that they’re a new team. You can see the difference because they’re doing much better and playing harder.”
The player who will be primarily charged with making the Galaxy’s “lives terrible” will be dynamic forward Erick “El Cubo” Torres. The 20-year-old has shined since joining the team in July with seven goals in 12 appearances, though he has failed to score in his last three games. With defenses looking to key in on the precocious attacker, who uses his speed and presence of mind to slip behind defenses, it opens up space for wingers Eric Avila and Bryan de La Fuente.
No matter who suits up for the Rojiblancos, the Galaxy expect a team that will face them with the intensity of an MLS Cup final opponent, meaning that they’ll have to match the heightened speed of the game.
“This is the game of the year for Chivas. I’m going to say that it’s the game of year every time that you play the Galaxy in general, but even more for Chivas,” said Courtois. “They’re going to want to reinvent their image and show that they’re a good team. They want to come at us very strong and I expect a really strong mentality from both teams.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com