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The "New" California Clasico: Earthquakes and Galaxy work to rekindle their rivalry

Quakes and Galaxy go together like oil and water...
Quakes and Galaxy go together like oil and water...

In the new world order of Major League Soccer, the key to the growth of the sport has been tapping into the young adult market that enjoys the sense of connection and community that comes from group gatherings and activities. In many MLS cities, these fans proselytize to their friends at school, at work, and especially through social media about the virtues and excitement that come with supporting their local team. Taking that tribalism a step further, these groups take to the internet to defend their side while attacking their rivals across the league via blogs and article comments wherever the game is discussed.

Unfortunately for most fans, that is where rivalries in MLS end, as traveling to away matches to support their team and vocally compete with the resident supporters groups is a fiscal and time consuming hardship that most of these young adults cannot bear. When competing teams are in relative close proximity, these barriers to away support are somewhat diminished — see the Pacific Northwest Cascadia rivalries and the Eastern seaboard I-95 corridor teams. In Los Angeles, two MLS teams share the same stadium, and a fan rivalry has grown quickly into one of the strongest in the entire league.

Then there are the MLS cities that are remotely located throughout the U.S., where rivalries based on geographical closeness often feel contrived rather than organic in their development. Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids (537 miles apart) seems to fall into that category, as does Sporting Kansas City and the Chicago Fire (515 miles apart). Traveling supporters make those arduous treks to watch their teams play, but the distance involved is longer than any side would need to go, for example, in the English Premier League — just 283 miles between Newcastle upon Tyne and Fulham, London.

Now the distance between teams should in no way diminish the rivalries between supporters, but it does present a hurdle that can expose whether a rivalry truly exists or is just manufactured by the teams themselves. In the case of the San Jose Earthquakes, a bitter rivalry with their closest neighbor, the Los Angeles Galaxy, developed from the inception of MLS in 1996. Located in the two big population centers of the state of California, the Quakes and the Galaxy (“just” 355 miles apart) joined a litany of Northern and Southern California rivalries that covered virtually every professional sport. Over the first 10 years of the league, supporters of both teams traveled to away games to join local transplants in representing their sides. The players and coaches themselves embraced the rivalry over that time, and the term “California Clasico” — which borrowed its name heavily from the La Liga rivalries in Spain — was born.

That all changed in 2005, when Chivas USA entered the league and the Earthquakes completed a lame-duck season in San Jose before the franchise was moved to Houston, Texas. Both on and off-field rivalries intensified between the established Galaxy and the newcomers Chivas USA, while the once strong animosity between the Galaxy and the now named Houston Dynamo quickly faded. Ten years of spirited California Clasicos soon faded into memory.

By 2008, when the Earthquakes were reintroduced to MLS as an expansion side, San Jose supporters welcomed the chance to again hate on their Southern Californian counterparts, and they snapped up tickets to the pair of home matches contested at the Oakland Coliseum between the two sides in record numbers. While the organizations and the players had changed in the barren Nor-Cal soccer seasons on 2006 and 2007, and the teams themselves had little animosity for each other, the supporters stepped up to show MLS that one of the great rivalries in the league’s history was back.

With deference to the first ten years of the competition, the current Earthquakes and Galaxy rivalry has not grown much beyond what was seen in 2008. However, the match-ups have been compelling, and supporters from both sides would be well served to return the California Clasico to the list of top rivalries in MLS. With that in mind, here’s a quick look at the matches hosted by the Earthquakes against the Galaxy over the last three seasons.

Galaxy cruise to 3-0 win on June 14, 2008: In the first home match-up between the new Quakes and the Galaxy, forward Edson Buddle netted a hat-trick for Los Angeles in front of 39,872 fans at the Oakland Coliseum. The match featured the first Bay Area appearance by David Beckham, and the crowd was filled with fans wearing his replica jersey. A strong show of support from the traveling Galaxy supporters groups also lent to a raucous atmosphere at the Coliseum. The nearly 40K in attendance that evening still marks the high water mark for any Earthquakes home game since their return to MLS in 2008.

Quakes score late to edge LA 3-2 on August 3, 2008: After taking a two goal lead over the Galaxy courtesy of goals from summer arrivals Arturo Alvarez and Darren Huckerby, Los Angeles equalized on efforts from Landon Donovan and Buddle. With the afternoon crowd of 26,071 fans— more on the side of the Quakes, as the Beckham fanatics were out in far fewer numbers — sensing a draw was in the offering, the Earthquakes saved one last foray into the Galaxy area that saw a goal-mouth scramble end with defender Ryan Cochrane poking in a loss ball in the 89th minute to give the home town the win. As part of nine game unbeaten streak that summer spurred on by the summer signing of Huckerby, the Earthquakes made a late season push toward the playoffs that eventually fell short. The last-gasp victory against the Galaxy remains one of the five best moments from the 2008 season.

Galaxy equalizer earns 1-1 draw on April 18, 2009: With Beckham on loan to Italian Serie A side AC Milan to open the 2009 season, the Galaxy didn’t miss the English midfielder against the Quakes that day in front of a small crowd of 15,862 at the Oakland Coliseum. Promised two home dates with the Beckham-led Galaxy in their first two seasons back in MLS, the Earthquakes would not get to capitalize on Becks’ appearance in this match or the next with a big box-office gate. On the field, a 5th minute goal from Pablo Campos (who by season’s end faced the Galaxy as part of Real Salt Lake in the 2009 MLS Cup final) was cancelled out by a late Bryan Jordan equalizer. The Earthquakes would follow up the disappointing draw with Los Angeles with a five match losing streak in league play.

Quakes beat Donovan and Beckham-less Galaxy 2-1 on June 20, 2009: Already rooted at the bottom of the Western Conference standings as the 2009 season neared the halfway point, the Quakes gave 17,128 ardent supporters something to cheer about when the took down their rivals at the Oakland Coliseum. With Donovan away with the U.S. National Team at the FIFA Confederations Cup and Beckham still on loan in Italy, the Earthquakes took advantage of their below strength rivals to win just their third match of the season. Campos again was the hero for the San Jose, as his goal and assist bettered a second half strike from former Quake Jovan Kirovski. Of note that day was the home debut of newly acquired forward Chris Wondolowski, who made a substitute’s appearance for that season’s team MVP Ryan Johnson. Perhaps a bit of foreshadowing for the torch that would be passed by that time next season?

Quakes win “Wondo-nothing” on August 21, 2010: After unceremoniously dumping the Oakland Coliseum as a home field for the 2010 season, the Quakes welcomed the Galaxy to intimate Buck Shaw Stadium for the late summer daytime contest. In front of a still-record crowd for the Buck of 10,799 fans, an early Wondolowski goal held up against an onslaught of Galaxy attacks in the 1-0 victory. Despite the absence of Beckham, this time to an Achilles injury suffered before the season began, the Galaxy looked threatening all afternoon, but would leave San Jose disappointed. Los Angeles would go on to capture the Supporters Shield for the best record in MLS in that 2010 season, the Quakes earned three valuable points on their way to qualifying for the playoffs in just their third season since returning to MLS.