LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes set to battle at Buck Shaw

CARSON, Calif. – LA Galaxy central defender Omar Gonzalez wasn’t around for the defending MLS Cup champion’s two games with the San Jose Earthquakes earlier this season. He was rehabbing from major offseason knee surgery and didn’t make his first on-field appearance with the team until early July.

But he did watch the games, either on television and in-person, and was impressed with what he saw. The Earthquakes (19-6-7, 64 points) won both games in dramatic fashion, and there figures to be more fireworks when the Western Conference rivals get together again for the third edition of the California Clasico on Sunday afternoon (4 p.m., Time Warner Cable SportsNet, Galavision, 1150 AM, 1330 AM, LIVE CHAT) at tiny Buck Shaw Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University.

“What I saw,” Gonzalez said, “was a dominant performance by us and them sneaking in and getting some goals late. They’re a team that’s a bunch of fighters. They don’t give up.”

Buck Shaw Stadium has been a house of horrors for visiting teams this season – the Earthquakes are 9-0-5 at the venue and have outscored opponents 40-16 – but the Galaxy (15-12-5, 50 points) actually have some fond memories of the place.

It was July 25, 2011, when the Galaxy and Earthquakes played to a spirited 0-0 tie highlighted by the appearance of the Galaxy’s Mike Magee in goal. Magee was pressed into emergency duty after starting goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts was lost with a broken arm and backup Josh Saunders was red carded after a confrontation with San Jose’s Steven Lenhart.

READ: Mike Magee stint in goal lights up Twitter

Such theatrics are nothing new for Lenhart, who is well-known around MLS for his role as an agitator, and teammate and former Galaxy player Alan Gordon, for that matter. Gonzalez said one of the keys Sunday is to ignore such tactics.

“You have to be careful. You’ve gotta watch out for concussions with those guys,” Gonzalez said with a laugh. “It’s going to be a great fight, a great battle. They’re really nice off the field, but on the field they’re a totally different story. That’s the way you gotta be.

“I think we all have to get into a mindset of not taking any (expletive deleted) and just going from there.”

Sunday’s game marks a rematch of an entertaining match on June 30 at Stanford Stadium, where the Earthquakes rallied from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Galaxy 4-3. And no one can forget May 23 at The Home Depot Center, where San Jose scored three goals in the final 17 minutes, including the winner by none other than Gordon in the fourth minute of stoppage time, for a stunning 3-2 victory.

Sean Franklin said the Galaxy, who can finish at least third in the West with a win Sunday over San Jose and on Oct. 28 over Seattle, can’t let up for a second.

“They kind of have this never-say-die attitude,” Franklin said of the Earthquakes. “Even when you think the game’s over, they come back and get a victory.

“They’re a team that plays well the whole 90 minutes, and they believe they’re in the game whether they’re losing 1-0 or 2-0. That’s kind of how their season’s been. They’ve finished their opportunities and that’s why they’ve won so many games.”