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Houston's quest in L.A. overshadows 'rivarlies'
by Ridge Mahoney, April 18th, 2008 6:45AM
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TAGS:  mls


MLS, somewhat artificially, is promoting a few of its games along the lines of "Rivalry Week." In the case of the Red Bulls playing the Revs, OK, why not, though both teams have fiercer histories against D.C. United and Chicago, respectively. The D.C.-Crew matchup Thursday night pitted former Argentine club rivals Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Boca Juniors) and Marcelo Gallardo (River Plate) in the "Yankee Superclasico," a term that hopefully will be buried and forgotten by the next time they play, if not sooner.

(Not blow off the I-95 CorridorCracker entirely, in 2005 the teams played two epics: a 5-4 regular-season barnburner won by the Metros in the Meadowlands, and a snowy playoff showdown at Gillette Stadium in which the Revs rallied from two goals down to win the series, 3-2, on aggregate.)

For the Saturday night soiree at Home Depot Center between former California cousins Los Angeles and Houston (nee San Jose), well, even before a new version of the Quakes started up this season, that rivalry had begun to ebb when the former Quakes left town in December, 2005.

In February, when Houston came to Northern California for a pair of preseason matches against the new Quakes, players and Coach Dominic Kinnear didn't feel too much nostalgia.

"It's good to see a few of the guys we used to play with and maybe we'd feel different if we were playing at Spartan [Stadium],"said captain Wade Barrett after the teams tied 0-0 in San Francisco. "But San Jose has a team, now, and the fans in Houston have supported us pretty well. We've moved on."

That separation from the past extends to matches against the Galaxy, which infamously blighted the old Quakes' final season in San Jose with a stunning 4-2 aggregate upset in the Western Conference semifinals on its way to the 2005 MLS Cup.

Many of the players are the same, but games against the Galaxy aren't. Former protagonists Landon Donovan and Carlos Ruiz are L.A. teammates, for example. And the new Quakes have already played the Galaxy in their season opener two weeks ago.

"I don't think there's not a rivalry, but I don't think it's as intense as it was," says Houston midfielder Richard Mulrooney, who like Ruiz, spent some time in Dallas -- and then Toronto -- before returning to the fold. "Considering it was Donovan against Ruiz, the battle of the midfields. I don't think it's that deep, but it's still a pretty good series.

"When it was San Jose-LA, we won it in '01, they won it in '02, we won it in '03, and it was just back and forth. They had more consistency in their roster. But having said that, it's changed."

More of a pressing need for Houston is to win a game. The Dynamo opened the season with an embarrassing 3-0 defeat in New England, came home to tie Dallas, 3-3, and last week earned its first shutout by tying Kansas City, 0-0. In the era that began in 2001 when Frank Yallop took over San Jose as head coach and named current Kinnear as his assistant, only once before - in that 2005 season -- had the team started the season winless in its first three league games.

Midfielder Ricardo Clark returned to MLS action last week in Kansas City, ending a nine-game - and six-month - league suspension imposed for kicking Ruiz, then playing for Dallas, last October. Ruiz is sidelined with a knee injury so that potentially inflammatory element, at least, is removed.

"He makes us better, just a good all-around player," says Kinnear of Clark. "Some of the things he does you just enjoy watching. He covers so much ground and wins so many tackles. He does a lot of things. He makes some tackles you just say, 'Holy smokes!'

"It stunk for him to play Wednesday [against Saprissa in the CONCACAF Champions' Cup] and then have him sit out on Saturday, then play Wednesday, sit out Saturday. Plus, we were shuffling way too many guys."

Houston has yet to field a team near full-strength and won't be able to Saturday, since MLS on Thursday handed defender Eddie Robinson a three-game suspension and fined him $1,000 for clubbing Wizards defender Tyson Wahl with his forearm last Saturday.

Referee Baldomero Toledo didn't take any action and Wahl recovered to finish the game but league officials reviewed the incident and meted out the suspension, with immediate effect, Thursday.

Right back Craig Waibel came out of the Kansas City game in the first half with a pulled hamstring, and goalkeeper Pat Onstad hasn't fully recovered from a sprained shoulder he suffered against Dallas.

In just three games, Kinnear has started 17 different players and faces an L.A. team coming off a dispiriting 3-2 home loss to Toronto FC.

"I was watching that game and they probably got a fire lit under them and we get to go into the tool shed now," says Mulrooney, who because of Waibel's absence and Clark's return will probably play right back. "But we haven't won this year so we have a lot to prove. Hopefully it's a classic battle and we come out on the right end."

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