LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes: A twisted California Clasico

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

MLS | StubHub Center | Saturday, March 19 | 10:30 p.m. ET

Billed as

A slightly warped version of the usual California Clasico.

The lowdown

Despite an opening day 4-1 win over D.C. United, the LA Galaxy come into this weekend with their tails between their legs after going down to Colorado via a late goal from Marco Pappa. San Jose, who came into the season with very low expectations, are undefeated and at the top of the Western Conference. The Earthquakes finished off 2015 MLS Cup winners Portland last week with a stunning goal from Quincy Amarikwa, and could be looking to upset yet another playoff favorite this weekend.

LA, as is their way, added yet another crop of aging superstars to their roster in the offseason. A roster that already included Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane, and Giovani Dos Santos added Ashley Cole, Nigel De Jong, and 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee. But this faux-Galactico group has already endured a topsy-turvy time in the two weeks since MLS kicked off. Mike Magee (2), Robbie Keane, and Daniel Steres all scored in their utter rout of D.C. United, but that same attack was unable to do much at all against 2015 bottom-feeders Colorado. LA had just one shot on goal in the entire match, while Colorado had eight. They’ll need to find a real rhythm if they hope to have a chance at downing San Jose.

The Earthquakes, on the other hand, have simply found a way to grind out results thus far. Chris Wondolowski, San Jose’s patron saint, has already notched a goal in each of the two games. Whereas LA couldn’t find a way to break down Colorado, San Jose proved in Week 1 that when there’s a Wondolowski, there’s a way. The Rapids dominated possession against San Jose and had more than double the amount of shots, but the Earthquakes held on after scoring their goal. Expect San Jose to come out against LA in their conservative 4-4-2, wait for the chance to counterattack or take advantage of set pieces, and hope to come out with a point or more.

The California Clasico has a storied history, first kicking off between the two teams in 1996 for a 2-1 Galaxy win at the Rose Bowl. Since then, the Clasico has totaled 72 matches across all competitions; the Galaxy have won 31 of those to San Jose’s 21, with 17 of the matches ending in a draw. In 2015, the two sides met four times with two wins for each. Galaxy forward Alan Gordon is a former San Jose player, having played with the Earthquakes from 2011-2014.

Team news

LA Galaxy: Giovani Dos Santos (leg) is unlikely to feature, per Bruce Arena on Thursday. Arena said on Tuesday that Dan Kennedy (groin), Ashley Cole, and Alan Gordon (neck) are all “progressing” in their respective injuries, but hasn’t given any indication for their availability for this weekend.

San Jose: Marc Pelosi is still recovering from tendinitis surgery, and will be out for a few more months. The MLS injury report also lists Cordell Cato (hamstring), Jordan Stewart (Achilles), Chad Barrett (groin), Shaun Francis (quad), Andres Imperiale (calf) as being out of contention for the weekend.

Player to watch: Chris Wondolowski (San Jose)

Wondolowski, San Jose’s ageless wonder, continues to find goals just when his team needs them the most. Though he has been moved around the pitch a bit, he obviously finds the most comfort playing up front. Wondo always puts in the work at forward, holding up long passes from his teammates, threatening in the air on set pieces, and pops up around the pitch when needed. Look for the San Jose captain to harass LA’s defenders, and don’t be surprised if he nabs a goal off a corner or deep free kick.

The managers

Bruce Arena is one of the most storied managers in MLS history. He has the second most regular season wins in league history with 168, and leads the record for most MLS postseason wins with 27. He’s had his ups and downs, but he’s an extremely intelligent manager who always has a few tricks up his sleeve.

San Jose coach Dominic Kinnear is in his second spell managing the club. Kinnear managed the Houston Dynamo from 2006-2014 after a year-long spell at San Jose in 2004-2005. In his first season back at the Earthquakes, Kinnear just missed the playoffs with a 13-13-8 record. The Scottish-born, former USA international won the MLS Cup twice with Houston, in 2006 and 2007. Kinnear has the third-best all-time regular season coaching record in MLS, at 152-117-115 (.546).

Facts and figures

  • The California Clasico has seen 177 total goals scored, 94 for Los Angeles and 83 for San Jose.
  • The Galaxy nearly led the league in interceptions in 2015, finishing second behind Sporting KC with 24.9 interceptions per game. San Jose were dispossessed an average of 10.6 times per match in 2015.
  • Chris Wondolowski was the MLS leading goalscorer in 2012 with 27 goals in 32 appearances for San Jose, which is tied for the most goals in a single season in MLS history.

FourFourTwo prediction

This one should be a tight matchup, and it’s hard to see either team dominating the match. A 2-2 draw is a reasonable prediction.