For Chivas & LA, finally a SuperClasico that truly matters

Danny Califf and Landon Donovan LAvCHV

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CARSON, Calif. – Emotion and passion have always been the two key elements in SuperClasicos gone by.

Importance has not.

Saturday’s meeting between Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy, though, is different. The Rojiblancos are battling for a playoff spot with their in-stadium rivals as only a narrow margin separates the two sides. As early as it still is in the season, a win for either team could prove a decisive moment in their playoff fates.

“These Clasico games are crazy so we just need to make sure we come in, are focused and take care of business,” Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy said. “Without a doubt, we need to make sure we take advantage of these. This is where we could really do some damage.”

Since Chivas USA joined MLS in 2005, the teams have taken turn piecing together strong campaigns and reaching the postseason. The Galaxy won MLS Cup in 2005, when Chivas USA finished well out of a playoff spot. The next three years though saw Chivas USA put together strong teams while the Galaxy missed the postseason.

The only season in which both teams reached the playoffs and which produced SuperClasicos of significance came in 2009, when the two also met in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs. The Galaxy won the series on a 3-2 aggregate and went on to reach the final, while Chivas USA bowed out and missed the next two postseasons, as well. Misery turned to agony as they watched their rivals fortunes continue to rise, capped by the MLS Cup 2011 victory.

Now both teams are in a dogfight for a playoff spot. The Galaxy have 27 points, four more than Chivas USA, but the Goats have three games in hand. With the bottom three teams in the Western Conference all struggling – FC Dallas, Portland and Colorado have a combined 2-8-2 record in July – the fifth and final playoff spot could come down to Chivas or the Galaxy.

Success, for Chivas, is critical not only for getting a foothold on a postseason berth, but also to help sway some of respect Chivas USA’s way.

The Galaxy have been mired at the bottom of the table for most of the season but a few victories saw them regain a bit of their swagger. They also suddenly regained their glittering spotlight, sending two attackers to next week’s 2012 AT&T MLS All-Star Game and recapturing large swaths of the media’s attention thanks to a few spectacular goals from David Beckham.

Meanwhile, Chivas have been largely ignored, despite losing only once in their last nine league matches. Included in that run is a draw with Supporters Shield leaders San Jose and a win against the Galaxy in the last SuperClásico, on May 19. They also reached the semifinals of the US Open Cup, where they fell to three-time defending champions Seattle. The Goats do have the most impotent attack in MLS — only 12 goals in 18 games — but they have also allowed the fewest goals in the league.

“It’s very evident that we have to scratch and claw for every little bit of respect,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser said. “It is what it is and there’s nothing to be said other than we have to go out and play well. If we play well and get the results that we want, then all the talk doesn’t matter.”

Living in the Galaxy’s shadow has been a fact of life for the Red-and-White but one players have accepted.

“We’re the red-headed stepchild,” Chivas defender Danny Califf said. “It’s probably not as big a game for them as it is for us. Actually, I’m almost certain of that, but we use that as motivation.”

Luis Bueno covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by email at buenodad@gmail.com.