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CalClasico deserves more respect
by Ridge Mahoney, April 17th, 2009 9AM

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Before there was the SuperClassico, before hordes of TFC fans made the eight-hour trek to Columbus, before Houston and FC Dallas tangled in their own Texas Two-Step, several times a season would meet the polar opposites of MLS and California, San Jose and Los Angeles.

A former team executive once labeled the matchup, "the Smurfs and the Gals." Fun stuff, sure, but not on the field. The fortunes of the teams have ebbed and flowed but rarely are these games insipid or banal.

They share more than a history as California rivals. The Galaxy was bought by Anschutz Entertainment Group more than a decade ago and plays in a splendid stadium developed by AEG. After a few years of treating the original Quakes as a charity case, AEG ended all stadium discussions and moved the team to Houston after the 2005 season.

Heading into their match at the Oakland Coliseum Saturday night, the Gals hold a 23-13-5 edge, but in NorCal meetings the teams are dead even at 9-9-3. Of their memorable regular-season games is a 1997 encounter at Spartan Stadium that San Jose led, 2-0, midway in the second half, and lost, 3-2. That Galaxy comeback reversed a 3-2 Clash win at the Rose Bowl five weeks earlier

They've met four times in the playoffs, including MLS Cup 2001 in Columbus, won by the Quakes in overtime with a Dwayne De Rosario goal. Still more dramatic are their last two postseason meetings, among the most memorable showdowns in league history.

On its way to the title in 2003, San Jose rallied from a 4-0 aggregate playoff deficit with a 5-2 sudden-death overtime win at Spartan to take the series, 5-4; two years later, the ninth-seeded Galaxy stunned the No. 1 team, 4-2, in a two-leg series to capture the second of its two championships.

Many players, including Landon Donovan, have toiled for both teams during their careers, and much of the original MLS Quakes' success, following several desultory seasons, was fueled by ex-Gals. Brian Ching, Brian Mullan, Craig Waibel, Alejandro Moreno, et al, began in LA and eventually moved north. Moreno and Donovan are the only players to score for each team against the other in the regular season.

And of more modern vintage, Simon Ellliot, Kelly Gray, Brandon McDonald, Joe Cannon and assistant coach Ian Russell all played for LA. Eddie Lewis, a member of the San Jose Clash from 1996 to 1999, played in England for eight years, and came back to MLS as a Galaxy player last summer. Gals Todd Dunivant and Jovan Kirovski are former Quakes.

The marquee man in San Jose for the first few seasons, Eric Wynalda, hailed from Southern California, and though he lobbied several coaches on several occasions and eventually played for four teams, never did he wear the LA shirt.

Since Chivas USA joined the league in 2005, its annual derby matches with the Galaxy- the so-called SuperClasico - have taken center stage, and rugged battles like the 0-0 tie the teams waged last weekend at the Home Depot Center are typical. But in any language, a derby is a derby, and a clasico is something else.

Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid play a derby; Real Madrid and Barcelona tussle in a clasico. So do the Redskins and Cowboys, Red Sox and Yankees, Celtics and Lakers. There has to some limited proximity of a derby, though proscribing any set boundary - like those for offshore fishing rights or airspace - would be a moving target.

German teams in the Ruhr region are derby rivals. Bayern Munich and 1860 Munich play a derby, as do Inter and AC in the Milanese battle, obviously, but you'll see reference to Bayern and Stuttgart clashing in a Sud ("South") derby, as do Napoli and Palermo (derby del sud) in Italy even though they are separated by not only 200 miles but water as well.

Technically, I suppose, one could call Quakes-Galaxy a California derby, but that would also apply to San Jose-Chivas USA, would it not? Until they were contracted after the 2001 season, Tampa Bay and Miami met at least twice every season; we here on the West Coast kiddingly referred to it as the Florida Derby, even though the cities are a five-hour drive apart and that name actually is a 3-year-old Thoroughbred race that is one of the stepping stones to the Kentucky Derby, which as far as I can tell, doesn't involve goals or nets or scuffles or field invasions at all.

I dearly hope somebody at MLS or Honda wakes up and in future years reworks that sponsorship of Galaxy-Chivas USA games as the SuperDerby or HomeDepotDerby or something similar, because on Saturday one of the best rivalries in America, the CalClasico, is renewed. Long may it rage.

 



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