The atmosphere will be electric for the third California Clasico of 2016, as the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy will play in front of a sell-out crowd of over 50,000 fans at Stanford Stadium. And though both teams will be missing some star players, the match still promises to showcase the biggest rivalry in all of MLS.
The game is so anticipated that Univision, which has not shown a live MLS match since 1999, will broadcast the Clasico immediately following the Third-Place game between the U.S. men's national team and Colombia in the 2016 Copa America Centenario tournament. Kick-off for the Quakes vs. Galaxy grudge match at Stanford is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. Pacific Time.
"I don't think it's difficult to get pumped up for this game," midfielder Shea Salinas told Center Line Soccer. "The Galaxy is an easy team to get up for, and especially when you are in front of 50,000 fans, it's easy to get motivated for this game. We're going to come out flying, and hopefully it results in some goals."
The Galaxy (5-3-7, 22 points) won the first and tied the second of the two Clasicos already contested this season, both at their home stadium the StubHub Center. The Earthquakes (5-4-6, 21 points) earned the draw with a late equalizer courtesy of second-year midfielder Fatai Alashe, and they will be looking to seven the 2016 season series on Saturday.
"There's not a lot of secrets out there," said Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear. "This will be the third time we have played them this year, following those two games down there. It's going to be a tough one."
The Earthquakes are without a win in five games in all competitions, and a big part of that is the team has not been able to create goals in the absence of leading scorer Chris Wondolowski, who is with the USA as part of the Copa America. Wondo, with 8 goals already this season, will miss the Galaxy match, but he is expected back in San Jose following the weekend. In the meantime, the Quakes will need to find their scoring punch from other sources.
"I want to see us step on the field and get a chance early," continued Kinnear. "If we can, it will give us confidence and we can put more pressure on them and create turnovers. It can create some good momentum."
In the Quakes previous game, a 2-2 draw at Orlando City, both goals came after the 85th minute, with substitutes Chad Barrett and Salinas finding the back of the net at Camping World Stadium. Both players will likely begin the Saturday's game on the bench once again, and both will hope to have a big impact on the proceedings. Of course, neither would complain if the Earthquakes had a comfortable lead before he entered as a sub.
"We need to score that first goal," said Barrett to Center Line Soccer, "so we have that belief that we are going to go on and win this game and do good things. We have played impressively at Avaya Stadium, but Stanford is a different stadium, and we know it's always been a good game going up there. So, I expect a good amount of goals. We are going to continue our goal scoring streak as a team, and I fully expect us to win."
The Galaxy, led by legendary coach Bruce Arena, always seems to have his team ready for the California Clasico, and Saturday's game is not expected to be any different. LA played to a scoreless draw against Western Conference leaders the Colorado Rapids midweek, so some players are expected to be rested, but that will not prevent the Galaxy gaffer from going for the win against San Jose.
"He wants to win," said Kinnear of Arena, his long-time coaching rival. "The one thing people may overlook about Bruce is how competitive he is. I can't tell you this, but I know from being around him and coaching against him, he wants to win more than anything. And I think that is why he is the coach he is and has the record he has. He sets himself up for success and he's very proud of it."
LA has made a habit of defending resolutely and breaking on the counterattack at every opportunity, something that the Quakes are well aware of from their loss at the StubHub Center earlier this season. However, San Jose won't be surprised this time around, and the Earthquakes have a game plan they hope will neutralize the dangerous Galaxy attack.
"They are an incredibly good counterattacking team and they have good speed up top," said Barrett. "Every one of their players they put up front is a goalscorer and knows how to finish. Not giving them open shots will be key for us. Keeping it condensed and packed in the midfield and in the back will be important, but at the same time, we are a fast team, and counter really good as well, so I really feel we need to exploit their wings. Their wingers are not true wingers, they look to play inside, so we need to stretch the field and try to make it a bigger game even though it is on a condensed field."
A victory by the Earthquakes Saturday night would vault them above the red line in the competitive Western Conference, and even a draw could lift them just enough to reach the conference top-six. A loss to the Galaxy would keep San Jose out of the postseason spots with one game remaining until the midway point of the MLS season is reached.
Match date/time: Saturday 10:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, 7:00 p.m. local time
Venue: Stanford Stadium, Stanford, California
TV: Univision Deportes Network, (Spanish), Univision (Spanish)
Streaming: MLS Live (blackout may apply)