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Ranking the top five moments in Earthquakes-Galaxy history

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The greatest comeback in MLS history; and MLS Cup derby. The Calfornia Clasico's high points compare favorably to any rivalry's in Major League Soccer. Scott French ranks them:

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The oldest of Major League Soccer's true derbies is the California Clasico, the most natural of the early rivalries in that it fit into an existing context. L.A. and the Bay Area have battled for Golden State supremacy in so many things -- banking, governance, water, national influence, wackiest lifestyles -- and there's been a heated sporting component since the Dodgers and Giants moved west in 1958.

The Galaxy and Earthquakes have played perhaps a dozen classic clasicos since they first lined up against each other at the Rose Bowl on April 28, 1996, a clash captured by the home side on goals by Jose Vasquez and Mauricio Cienfuegos. The Galaxy swept all four regular-season matches that inaugural campaign, then posted two more wins after the Clash, as the Quakes were then known, won the opener in the best-of-three, first-round playoff series.

Only one derby has been fought in an MLS Cup final -- yep, this one -- and as for MLS' greatest comeback, that's here, too.

Landon Donovan, among many, played for both sides. When he joined LA in 2005, a move closer to home, Quakes fans were appalled. He was booed with every touch in his return to Spartan Stadium. Frank Yallop coached both sides, with greater success to the north. Alan Gordon played for the Galaxy, then for San Jose, then for the Galaxy again. LA is happy he's not beating them in stoppage time any more.

To tell the history of this Clasico, we'd need a few hundred pages. So let's just briefly touch on the five greatest Galaxy-Earthquakes showdowns as we count down to Sunday afternoon's meeting, part of MLS' “Rivalry Week” encounters, at StubHub Center.

1. Earthquakes 5, Galaxy 2 (Spartan Stadium; Nov. 9, 2003)

(5-4 aggregate, after second-leg overtime, Western Conference semifinals)

LA was aiming for successive MLS Cup titles in 2003 and got off to a good start in their opening-round playoff series, beating the Quakes, 2-0, at home, then storming to a 2-0 lead 13 minutes into the second leg on goals by Carlos Ruiz and Peter Vagenas. A 4-0 aggregate lead ought to be insurmountable, right? Not quite.

The Quakes then pulled off the greatest comeback in MLS history, scoring five goals -- the finale in overtime -- to wrest away the series, 5-4, en route to their second MLS Cup title in three seasons. Jeff Agoos started the rally with a 21st-minute goal, Landon Donovan halved the deficit 14 minutes later, and Jamil Walker pulled San Jose within a goal five minutes into the second half. LA nearly held on, but Chris Roner forced overtime with a last-minute strike, and Rodrigo Faria's golden goal six minutes into the extra period started the Earthquakes' celebration.

“You could feel the momentum going our way, and it was sort of unstoppable,” Todd Dunivant, then a rookie defender for San Jose, said nine years later. “All the little plays started going our way. We kept putting in crosses, kept making it difficult and eventually got the breakthrough. Once it went to overtime, we were pushing and they were on their heels.”

2. Earthquakes 2, Galaxy 1, OT (Columbus Crew Stadium; Oct. 21, 2001)

(after overtime; MLS Cup final)

The most important California Clasico served as the sixth MLS Cup final, and it was decided on a tremendous individual effort by Dwayne De Rosario six minutes into overtime. San Jose claimed its first championship -- the team would win four in seven years, if you count Houston's titles after the original MLS Quakes headed the Texas after the 2005 season -- and the third title game LA had dropped.

Luis Hernandez gave the Galaxy a 21st-minute edge against the run of play, latching onto Greg Vanney's 40-yard ball over the top, beating Jeff Agoos, and firing past goalkeeper Joe Cannon. The Earthquakes were even by halftime, thanks to Landon Donovan -- in his first year of the loan deal from Bayer Leverkusen -- who scored his fifth goal of the playoffs in the 43rd minute, sending a loose ball in the box to the upper-right corner.

De Rosario, who came on with five minutes to go in regulation, netted the winner in sudden death. He cut inside from the top-left corner of the Galaxy box, beating Danny Califf, then curled a shot past Kevin Hartman, off the right post and into the net.

Next: Solving the Goonies, Donovan switches sides ...