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LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes: Three Questions

Checking in on the big rivals ahead of the Clasico.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at LA Galaxy Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The California Clasico is nearly here! To gear up for Saturday’s big game, I check in with...myself, as I happen to cover the LA Galaxy, for LAG Confidential, in addition to the San Jose Earthquakes for this fine website. Many thanks for answering my own questions about the Galaxy.

Center Line Soccer asks LAG Confidential:

1. The Galaxy have struggled for several years but they’ve started this season pretty well. What’s changed to make things better so far?

The biggest change is the arrival of Greg Vanney as head coach. Joining with a proven track record in MLS and a history with the Galaxy as a player, his hiring looked like a great move on paper and so it has turned out to be so far. Vanney is particularly good for this project because he engineered a bigger turnaround at Toronto FC, and because he’s a flexible coach. He knew he wasn’t going to get three years to figure things out and so he’s set about trying to fix what he can with the remaining pieces, while being very aggressive in terms of turning over the roster.

The result is that all aspects of the team’s play has improved. They’re playing like a team again, they have energy, they stay in games and they seem to be growing. It’s still super early, so I suppose things could go downhill, which would no doubt be music to Earthquakes fans’ ears, but Vanney has helped unlock it all.

2. What are you concerned about for the Galaxy at the moment? They are coming off a loss.

It’s true, they did lose, 3-0 to the Portland Timbers on the road last weekend. But the game state of that one is significant. LA played down a man for a half because Derrick Williams had one of the worst tackles you’re going to see on Andy Polo just before halftime. The Timbers ran riot after that. Playing down a man on the road and playing without the player who had been a major upgrade in defense until the tackle really hurt the Galaxy there.

And that has to be a lingering concern for the next handful of games, the defense. While I think the fullbacks have been strong this season, in Jorge Villafaña and Julian Araujo, central defense has been more of an adventure, and with Williams out for the foreseeable future, it looks like it will be Daniel Steres and Nick DePuy. They can play well enough, but the Quakes should be licking their chops at the prospect of running numbers at that duo, at pace, since I think that is a major vulnerability for the Galaxy.

3. Is the rivalry ardor still there from the Galaxy side?

It’s at a low ebb, in my opinion, and there’s a few reasons for it. First, the team has a ton of new players, and so many of them are being told the California Clasico is a big deal. Some aren’t from the U.S. even, they probably don’t really grasp the natural LA-Bay Area rivalry in all sports. While the LA-area natives and few players to have played for a long time get it, it’s still a learning experience for much of the roster.

Another reason is that these teams haven’t both been good for a long time. While rivalries usually rise above how teams are doing at a given time, there’s no question they get bigger when the teams are playing big, meaningful games against each other. Maybe that will return this season? It’s possible, and if it happens, it could get cranked up a notch once again.

And finally, and I know San Jose folks won’t like this, but: I think this Galaxy team thinks the rivalry with LAFC is bigger at present. Araujo talked at length about El Trafico motivating him, and newcomer Jonathan Bond essentially used the rivalry with LAFC as a measuring stick for the upcoming Clasico. Of course, the Galaxy have been more successful in El Trafico overall than the Clasico in recent years, so that may go some way to their opinion. I have a feeling we’ll still see some fire on the field on Saturday.

You can find my answers to my questions about the Earthquakes at LAG Confidential.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.