The California Clasico — pitting the San Jose Earthquakes against the LA Galaxy since 1996 — has produced some amazing fixtures over the years. From MLS Cup finals and playoff battles to the epic summer showdowns at Stanford in recent seasons, the Quakes and their Southern California rival have rarely disappointed.
The intensity of the games on the field have been equally matched by the animosity of the supporters off it, with the San Jose Ultras up north and their counterparts Angel City Brigade in Los Angeles fueling the competition with tifo and chants that have always been memorable and, sometimes, a bit offensive. Busloads of each supporters group make the long trek south and north respectively to invade their rivals home stadium. It’s a show within the show, and one that improves the atmosphere for everyone in attendance.
But rarely has that intensity been shared by the players on both sides of the Cali Clasico. Sure, there will always be the centerpiece of the rivalry, Landon Donovan, who has won MLS Cup championships for both clubs. Loved in LA and reviled in San Jose, the man for whom the league has named its MVP trophy will be visiting Avaya Stadium in March with his new team Club Leon of Mexico, and he’s expected to get a wide ranging welcome from fans, from those standing, applauding in appreciation, to many content to jeer him unmercifully. LD simply has that effect on Quakes fans.
But the latest addition to the rivalry double dip, goalkeeper David Bingham, is less likely to see much of the positive response when he returns to play the Earthquakes. The seven-year MLS veteran was the starter in San Jose to begin 2017, but he was benched halfway through the season before an off-season trade sent him to the Galaxy — a dramatic turn of events for the still U.S. men’s national team hopeful.
“It’s not an easy situation when out of the blue when you go from No. 1 to not playing anymore,” Bingham told Elliott Almond of the San Jose Mercury News back in January, adding, “It’s time to get back to soccer and leave all the other stuff in the past.”
Bingham, who joined the Earthquakes in 2011 as a Generation Adidas signing following a weighted lottery of MLS clubs hoping to secure his services, spent four years as the understudy to Jon Busch before taking over the starting job when Dominic Kinnear assuming the head coaching role in 2015. When Kinnear was fired last June, replaced by Chris Leitch, Bingham soon lost his starting job too. In his comments to the Mercury News, Bingham stated that his conflict with the front office began well before that, and by February, he — apparently not ready to leave everything in the past — went into even more detail about his strained relationship with the Quakes.
“[It’s about] how they treat you, how they offer you. It’s a lack of respect there,” Bingham told Scott French of MLSSoccer.com. “To be fair, it’s more than just a lack of [respect]. If you’ve never done it before, it’s a learning curve, and some people don’t understand that.”
Referring to the front office transition in the club from long-serving general manager John Doyle to fresh-faced outsider Jesse Fioranelli as a major catalyst in the deteriorating situation, Bingham indicated the new regime made it uncomfortable for other veteran players as well. This past off-season, Bingham was part of a purge that has seen Internationals Darwin Ceren, Victor Bernardez, Marcos Urena, and Cordell Cato moved off the roster. Other key players, like Shaun Francis last summer and Simon Dawkins last week, are out as well. Fioranelli and Leitch have made over the team in many ways, and Bingham was simply not part of their plans.
One of those veterans that remains with the club is five-year club captain Chris Wondolowski, who was shaken up by the firing of long-time coach Kinnear back in June, but has kept a professional manner during the entire transition period from Doyle to Fioranelli. It would be simple to say that Wondo is untouchable in San Jose — that he calls the shots when it comes to his present and future — but that’s not how the business works. Instead, he has a unique perspective on the situation, one that empathizes with what Bingham has had to endure.
“It’s a player and those are his feelings,” Wondolowski told Joel Soria of Quakes Epicenter last week. “Everyone thinks it’s very rosy and everything is nice, but there’s a lot of stuff that goes on off the pitch. It’s never fun, it’s never good to be a part of, and it’s always tough situations.”
It was a candid admission from the captain, but not one that was out of character for the straight-talking striker. The 35-year-old Wondolowski has been through some well-chronicled ups and downs in his career, and his insights into the inner workings of the team provide a valuable view for those that see only the gameday action on the field. The turbulent year experienced by Bingham, who was the longest continuous serving Earthquakes players behind Wondolowski, is to him business as usual.
“Sometimes you lose friends, teammates, colleagues throughout this job and it’s unfortunate,” Wondolowski added in his conversation with Soria, “but I wish nothing but the best for him. Again, just not against us.”
Bingham has already faced the Quakes once this year, taking the loss in a 4-2 preseason game down in Irvine — one in which Wondolowski scored against the new LA ‘keeper — and will face his former teammates again in May when the Galaxy hosts the Earthquakes at StubHub Center. The Castro Valley native makes his first return to the Bay Area on June 30 for the annual California Clasico at Stanford Stadium.