California Clasico back to its best, and that's just fine for the LA Galaxy

CARSON, Calif. – The old rivalry has gone from simmer to boil these last few months, thanks to three epic battles marked by juxtapositions of style and culture, a little old-fashioned trash talk, plus the rousting of visiting fans – all booted from the stadium – in the last go-around.

The California Clasico is back, for real, and that pleases the LA Galaxy to no end. There is no foe they'd rather face with so much at stake as the San Jose Earthquakes, especially here and now. Their MLS Western Conference Semifinal series kicks off Sunday at the Home Depot Center (9 pm ET, ESPN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), with the return leg set for Nov. 7.

“I think we were asking for San Jose,” Mike Magee said following LA's Knockout Round victory Thursday night over Vancouver. “That's a nice rivalry, and we wanted them, and now we got them.

“If you watched our games earlier on and different comments said and knowing they are the best team in the league right now ... and that's the team, if you want to win, you've got to beat them. So that's gonna have to happen.”

The Galaxy and Quakes enjoyed one of MLS' fiercest rivalries in the league's first decade, especially from 2001 to 2005, when each won two MLS Cups, meeting up in one final (2001, to San Jose) and one particularly memorable first round encounter (2005, to the LA). Then the Earthquakes moved to Houston, and the rivalry wasn't what it was when club was reestablished in 2008.

Until this year.

Three classic encounters, with San Jose rallying from two-goal disadvantages to win the first two and twice from deficits to tie the third, has heated things considerably. So has the Galaxy's obvious dislike of the direct, confrontational style that Frank Yallop, a former LA head coach, has employed to great effect. Omar Gonzalez called it “embarrassing” and said the Quakes were “obnoxious” and “a bunch of jokes” after the 2-2 draw two weeks ago.

“It's exciting because there's obviously a lot of history between these two clubs, and only this year has it kind of been rekindled. It's back in full swing,” said Todd Dunivant, one of two Galaxy players (with Landon Donovan) who has won MLS Cups with both clubs. “When our fans go down there [to Northern California] and all the incidents that happened down there with them [100 were ejected and seven arrested after an incident in the stands] – all those little things kind of add to it.

"It's a great opportunity for us. They've been the best team all year, and we're going to have our work cut out for us, and we're going to have to play the game at our best to beat them.”

The Galaxy say they know what it takes.

“We know how they play is long balls, physical, it's fight – it's a little bit different game,” said Marcelo Sarvas. “We just got to do our game and keep the ball on the floor and pass and move, but that will be fine.”

There is greater desire, the Brazilian midfielder acknowledged, because “three games we were always leading the game and they chase the game. [This series is] something – it isn't revenge, but it's something important for us. We know that we can beat them.”

LAST MEETING: SJ 2, LA 2