The history of the Galaxy-Chivas USA derby is a short one but perhaps the fiercest match in the series history ended 1-1 Thursday night at Home Depot Center with a Galaxy player contributing to both goals, and one of the head coaches ejected.
Midfielder Pete Vagenas set up an equalizer for Edson Buddle after Vagenas failed to close down Chivas USA goalscorer Ante Razov in the 15th minute, and a deadlock played in a raucous environment rife with shuddering tackles and throbbing drums left the teams tied atop the Western Conference with 6-6-4 records and 22 points.
According to a source, Vagenas is the Galaxy player whose contract was not guaranteed as of the July 1 date while the Galaxy tries to clear a roster spot for Argentine defender Eduardo Dominguez, a veteran of the Argentine league acquired to tighten and toughen a porous back line. By MLS regulations, each team is permitted to extend the contracts of one or two players on a short-term basis while roster moves are worked out.
The Galaxy is also trying to trade striker Carlos Ruiz, but its lack of success may trigger a loan move to a club in his native Guatemala. Ruiz came on as a sub in the 58th minute to make just his sixth appearance of the season and needed some time to find his feet, but he nearly reached a bending David Beckham cross in the 80th minute, only to be denied by a decisive leap from defender Bobby Burling. He also raced free two minutes into stoppage time to blast a feed from Landon Donovan into the foot of goalie Brad Guzan.
Some rough challenges by Chivas USA midfielders Paulo Nagamura and Jesse Marsch squelched the Galaxy through much of the first half, though Guzan just got enough of his fingertips to deflect a rising Chris Klein blast onto the goalpost. Beckham used his touches more effectively than did Landon Donovan, who only sporadically broke through the opposition yet set up Ruiz for what could have been the gamewinner in stoppage time.
Razov, Sacha Kljestan and Francisco Mendoza had more success against a Galaxy back four depleted by the absences of Sean Franklin and Abel Xavier. Kljestan started the match as a second forward behind Razov, and set up the goal by dribbling his way into space and playing a short ball that Razov curled over LA keeper Steve Cronin.
At halftime, Preki brought on Atiba Harris as a second forward and slid Kljestan back to midfield. Chivas USA labored to control midfield in the second half as the Galaxy dictated the play, but swept forward several times in the final minute and nearly stole a victory when Kljestan headed a deep cross from Jonathan Bornstein against the outside of the post at about the same spot struck by Klein's deflected shot.
By then Preki had been dismissed by referee Kevin Stott for comments overheard by fourth official Ramon Hernandez in the aftermath of Buddle's equalizer in the 72nd minute. Beckham played the ball inside to Vagenas, who looked up immediately to spot Buddle making a run on the right side of the penalty area. Buddle shook off a challenge from Shavar Thomas and fired the ball low past Guzan.
Preki barked "What did I do? What did I do?" while being escorted off the field by Chivas USA representatives and security officials.
What both teams, and a rabid sellout crowd, did was serve up plenty of what derbies are supposed to be: intense, tough, spectacular, controversial, and a whole lot of fun. SuperLiga brought those elements to American soccer stadiums last year. On the eve of SuperLiga 2008, the Home Depot Center rivals roiled the home they share.