LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes: Galaxy in full stride entering Clasico
There's debate whether the Seattle Sounders might be the Galaxy's No. 1 rival, but the Earthquakes are right there, always have been and were the real derby foe even when Chivas USA was around. There have been so many big games, huge battles, big comebacks, and animosity -- both on the field and in the stands -- that the California Clasico stands as MLS' oldest real rivalry.
Some of that is cultural -- the SoCal-NorCal rivalry covers virtually everything -- but these teams aren't fond of each other, although there's a healthy dollop of respect present. LA has been the better side historically, with a 39-24-13 record across all competitions, and the Galaxy been dominant down south, at 24-6-5. San Jose hasn't beaten the Galaxy at StubHub since their Supporters' Shield-winning side opened the 2012 playoffs with a 1-0 victory, only to fall, 3-1, in the home leg. LA is 3-0-2 at home since.
The Galaxy won the first meeting this year, a 3-1 triumph at StubHub on March 19, which started them on their current, MLS season-best eight-game unbeaten streak. Gyasi Zardes scored goals six minutes apart early in the the half after Earthquakes DP Simon Dawkins was sent off just before halftime, and Robbie Keane added a late penalty kick after Wondolowski ended the shutout in the 89th minute. LA has been virtually untouchable at home this year, with 4-1, 3-1, 5-2 and 4-2 victories sandwiching a 1-1 draw with Portland six weeks ago.
Giovani Dos Santos has been in alarmingly good form, enough so to get a call-up to Mexico's national team for Copa America, an invitation he turned down. He's scored and/or assisted in the last five games, Steven Gerrard has a four-game points streak going, Robbie Keane's is three games -- the last two since he returned from a knee injury -- and Mike Magee has scored or assisted in the past two.
The Earthquakes are a different side at home than on the road. They're 5-0-1 at Avaya Stadium, including a 3-1 triumph over Houston last week as Alberto Quintero scored twice and assisted the other goal, but 0-3-2 on the road. They've given up 11 goals in those five matches, and three of their five away strikes have come in the 83nd minute or later, and only one of them mattered: Dawkins' equalizer at Philadelphia three weeks ago.
Both sides come in off an 11-day MLS break, although the Quakes beat Spain's Real Sociedad, 2-1, in a friendly Wednesday night, with Chris Wondolowski scoring twice.
San Jose coach Dominic Kinnear has dealt with something of a revolving lineup this year because of injuries, and among the missing have been center back Clarence Goodson (back tightness), who started the first two games but hasn't played since, and forward Quincy Amarikwa (right hamstring), who hasn't been seen the last three outings. Amarikwa has been upgraded to questionable, as is defender Andres Imperiale, Goodson's fill-in, who has missed the last three games, with Marvell Wynne moving inside. Also affected has been DP Innocent Emeghara, who figures to miss his third straight match with an ankle injury.
Nigel de Jong looks like a go for the Galaxy after missing the last five games -- three on suspension for that clattering tackle on Portland's Darlington Nagbe and the last two with a knee injury -- and Alan Gordon, out the last four with a neck injury, should be ready to come off the bench if needed. Leonardo, who missed the start of the season with a knee injury, made his first start in last week's 2-2 draw at Philadelphia, with Daniel Steres coming off the bench after starting the first nine games. The big question is at goalkeeper. Dan Kennedy, the No. 1 to start the season, made his first start against Philly since leaving the opener with a groin injury, but his error enabled the Union's 63rd-minute equalizer. The guess is that Brian Rowe will be back in the nets.
The players' union released salary information this week, and the Galaxy's top five earners (in guaranteed compensation) are Gerrard ($6.1325 million), Dos Santos ($4.25 million), Keane ($3.5 million), de Jong ($500,000) and Zardes ($472,500). Ashley Cole has been a bargain at $327,625. The Quakes' top five: Emeghara ($1.3 million), Dawkins ($800,000), Wondolowski ($700,000), Goodson ($342,000) and Amarikwa ($260,666.67). Garcia Perez is listed at $250,000.
The Galaxy received a far simpler fourth-round assignment in the U.S. Open Cup than did the Quakes. LA will be home June 14 against a local USASA side, either La Maquina or L.A. Wolves. San Jose must visit the Portland Timbers.
Player to watch: Giovani Dos Santos
Giovani Dos Santos has been the most electrifying player in MLS the past month, and his decision to decline Mexico's invitation to Copa America's Centenario says everything about his commitment to the Galaxy. He's having a blast, more so now that Robbie Keane's back -- forget what you hear about how they can't play together, it's ridiculous -- and with Steven Gerrard healthy and sharp again and contributions coming from virtually everywhere else, what's not to like. He's had a goal and/or assist, sometimes in multiples -- five of each, in total -- in each of the last five games, but it's the quality of the goals and of the set-ups that's knocking everyone out.
Only two coaches have won back-to-back MLS Cup titles, and they're facing off here. Bruce Arena, 64, won the league's first two championships at D.C. United, then in 2011 and 2012 won with the Galaxy, beating Dominic Kinnear and the Houston Dynamo both times. He won a record fifth crown two years ago.
Kinnear, 48, a former MLS (and U.S. national team) midfielder, has been a part of four MLS Cup triumphs, twice as an assistant to Frank Yallop with the Quakes and then as head coach at Houston the first two seasons after the team relocated to South Texas. He returned last year to San Jose, near his hometown, posting a .500 record and just missing the playoffs.
Facts and figures
• San Jose's Chris Wondolowski is closing in on two MLS scoring records, for winning goals (he has 38, two behind Jeff Cunningham and three in back of Landon Donovan) and road goals (58, four behind Donovan). He's No. 4 all-time (116, 28 off Donovan's record) and has the most in MLS since the 2010 campaign kicked off (109). Wondo also signed a new multi-year contract on Friday.
• LA is No. 1 in goals (24), No. 1 in assists (23), No. 1 in offense (2.40 per game, .7 ahead of No. 2 Orlando City), No. 1 for home offense (3.40 per game, 1.23 ahead of No. 2 Houston), No. 1 for first-half goals (1.20 per game), and No. 1 for second-half goals (1.20 per game). They're only 16th in shots (122) and 10th in shots on goal (52).
• LA is 3-1-3 when they've trailed at halftime, the only MLS club with a winning mark in such situations. But San Jose is 113-4-23 with a halftime lead, dating to the start of the 2000 season.
• After scoring seven goals in the first eight games, Chris Wondolowski has gone scoreless the past three games, and he hasn't scored from somewhere other than the penalty spot in more than a month. He assisted both San Jose goals in the win over Houston and tallied twice in the friendly with Real Sociedad.
Anything can happen in rivalry games, right? Well, maybe not. The Quakes haven't won often in LA, and the Galaxy are in much better form and health -- and better-rested -- for what that matters. Anything (ital)can(end ital) happen, but it likely won't. Galaxy 4, Earthquakes 1.
Scott French is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJFrench.