Sam Cronin (pictured) started all 34 of the San Jose Earthquakes' regular season matches in MLS last year. (Photo: Denis Concordel/www.widgic.com)
SAN JOSE, California -- Whether they have come during regular season play, the MLS Cup playoffs, or even the U.S. Open Cup tournament, games between the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy have always lived up to hype of an intrastate rivalry known affectionately as the “California Clasico.”
This Saturday, the two CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinalists will give the rivalry a preseason tune-up as they face off against each other in Fresno, California, in the inaugural Central California Cup. Billed as a friendly, the match will be anything but if history is any indication.
The Earthquakes and Galaxy are two of the ten original clubs in Major League Soccer (MLS), which was founded in 1996. By virtue of being located in two of the state’s major metropolitan areas, one in the north and the other in the south, a geographical rivalry became entrenched. Some memorable matches have highlighted the 18 years since.
In the 2001 MLS Cup Final, San Jose beat the Galaxy with a “Golden Goal” in overtime to capture its first championship. A year later, LA knocked out the defending title holders on the road to its first MLS Cup. In 2003, in what is widely known as the greatest comeback in league history, the Quakes overturned a 4-goal deficit to defeat the Galaxy 5-4 on aggregate in a playoff quarterfinal. Nearly a decade later, LA exacted a measure of revenge by knocking off the Supporters Shield winning Earthquakes en route to the club’s fourth MLS title.
And now, as each team prepares for its CCL quarterfinal opener just a month away, the two rivals meet up for the first time in 2014.
United States internationals Chris Wondolowski and Clarence Goodson of the Quakes and the Galaxy’s Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez were for the month of January teammates with the national team. Together, they helped the U.S beat Korea Republic 2-0 on February 1 in an international friendly. But when they take the field at Chukchansi Park on Saturday night, they go back to being competitors, and no one expects the pairs to go easy on each other.
The Earthquakes are still looking for their first victory of the preseason after two losses, and getting that at the expense of the Galaxy would provide a small, though important, psychological lift for the team.
Given LA’s recent success, three successive CCL quarterfinal appearances and MLS Cup championships in 2011 and 2012, San Jose has some catching up to do in the rivalry. And with their upcoming Champions League matchup with Toluca and MLS season opener less than a week later, the Quakes will want to build momentum ahead of what will be a busy month of March.
The Central California Cup is on the line this weekend: the Earthquakes can take their first forward step of 2014 with a win against the Galaxy.