STANFORD, Calif. — Now in its 20th year of competition, the California Clasico between the San Jose Earthquakes and the LA Galaxy rarely disappoints. It’s been contested in the preseason, the regular season, and the postseason. It’s been played in all corners of the Golden state — and is far away as Columbus, Ohio — and it’s featured fervent crowds and on field fireworks. It is, hands down, the most storied rivalry in all of MLS.
And Saturday night, over 50,000 fans will assemble at Stanford Stadium for the next chapter in the series, the Earthquakes marquee match of the season and the official kickoff to the Bay Area’s “Summer of Soccer.”
The Galaxy have had the better of the Quakes over much of the rivalry, holding a 30-20-14 all-time record in the MLS regular season. That advantage has carried over to the playoffs as well, with LA at 5-4-1 in the postseason against San Jose. The Earthquakes do claim the biggest win in the series — the 2001 MLS Cup Final championship game — but they haven’t had too much success against the Galaxy in recent seasons.
Back in May, LA came to Avaya Stadium and beat the Quakes 4-2 behind a brace from Giovani dos Santos. The Mexico forward will not play in Saturday’s Clasico as he is with his national team as part of the FIFA Confederations Cup, but LA will have midseason MVP Romain Alessandrini pulling the strings on offense. The French midfielder has a combined 15 goals and assists already in his debut MLS season.
San Jose will be looking for a measure of revenge for that loss in May — the Earthquakes only defeat at home this season — countering with in-form striker Danny Hoesen and the league’s active leader in goals scored Chris Wondolowski. Newly installed head coach Chris Leitch will be making his MLS sideline debut as well, and he has a lot of faith in what he calls a “damn good team” to get a result against LA.
One player that is questionable for San Jose on Saturday is defender Florian Jungwirth, who has been the most impactful addition to the roster this season. The German suffered a gruesome ankle injury in the Quakes 2-0 victory over the San Francisco Deltas in the fourth round of the U.S Open Cup a few weeks back, but he has trained this week and hopes to take the field at Stanford. San Jose will be without Darwin Ceren and Marco Urena, both with their respective international teams ahead of the start of next week’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
What will the Earthquakes do to correct for their last game against the Galaxy. On that night, the hosts ceded too much of the midfield, and the visitors roasted them on the counterattack. Leitch, who promised a more open game from his team now that he’s in charge of tactical decisions, may have previewed his intentions when he featured a 3-5-2 midfield-heavy formation in Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over the Seattle Sounders in the Open Cup round of 16. He was coy when asked if he’ll use the same tactics against LA.
“We don’t want to tell LA everything," Leitch said following the Open Cup win. "We’ll see.”
The Earthquakes will have much of the same Starting XI from that game available to face the Galaxy. One exception is rookie defender Nick Lima, who is suspended one game for a second yellow card caution suffered last week in the Quakes 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake. Fellow rookie Jackson Yueill, a first round draft pick out of UCLA, could make his first MLS start Saturday night against the Galaxy.
The Quakes go into the weekend in fifth place in the Western Conference with 23 points, while the Galaxy are nipping at their heels one point behind. If results around MLS go San Jose’s way, the Earthquakes could end the weekend in second place. And if that wasn’t enough, the Quakes host the Galaxy on July 10 in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup with another opportunity to put one over their SoCal rivals in the storied California Clasico.