The birth of a true rivalry
which we'll call "Chivas" for simplicity after the roots of the club -- will be different than the ones who support Sigi Schmid's side. By and large, they won't see the game the same way, they won't root for the same national team, they won't speak the same primary language, they won't dress the same at the matches, they won't look the same. I could say that about Yankees and Mets fans, too. (A Yankees fan from the Bronx and a Long Islander who supports the Mets speak in two different languages, believe me.) But this rivalry will take on a more international feel.
In a way, one could argue that each Chivas-Galaxy match will have a U.S.-Mexico feel, filled with high levels of passion and an electric atmosphere. Galaxy fans who pull for the Yanks will not be too kind to Chivas founding player Ramon Ramirez, who they'll remember for kicking Alexi Lalas in the groin during a heated U.S.-Mexico in 1997. (Lalas found a photo of the incident and mailed it to Ramirez afterwards). They probably won't like Vergara too much, either, who already has shown a Steinbrenner-like persona about his club without even having played one match.
As Chivas fans go, do you think they're going to hang around for Cobi Jones' autograph? No way. He's been one of the villains for years on the U.S. national team. For the others, they'll find their own beefs with them, don't anyone worry. This won't be a friendly when they play. The fans won't be tailgating together as the Revs and Metros fans do, either. It'll be a rivalry that's got an edge to it, probably from the front offices right down to the vendor staff.
And that's exactly what this league needs.
Having two teams in the same city isn't foreign to us as U.S. sports fans. It goes all the way back to the early 1900s when the Red Sox and Braves each played in Beantown. They even shared Fenway Park for one season in 1914 because Braves Field was still being built. As Red Sox luck would have it, the Braves won the World Series that same year, which stole away many fans.
We see it now with the Yankees-Mets, Giants-Jets, Rangers-Islanders, and Cubs-White Sox. You could even throw the A's-Giants in there, as well, since Oakland and San Francisco are divided by a body of water in the way that the Copacabana separates Flamengo and Fluminense in Rio.
While there is a natural rivalry that has developed between for each of the pairings listed above, that isn't exactly a list that would make anyone's Heated Rivalries in Professional Sports list. Only the Lakers-Clippers and Rangers-Islanders games are definite happenings each year, while the others only get to play each other every few years depending on how the regular season schedule is formulated or what happens in the playoffs. It makes fans dream of events such as the Subway Series in 2000 between the Yanks and Mets, or a Super Bowl pitting the Giants against the Jets -- two teams who share Giants Stadium the way Chivas and the Galaxy will share the HDC.
For the best example of a great rivalry that exists between neighbors, one has to turn to college sports. Duke-North Carolina in basketball comes to mind. Here you have two schools separated by a couple of miles along Tobacco Road who are automatically going to play twice a year in league play, and perhaps twice more in the conference and NCAA tournaments. It's the hardest ticket to come by, too. Will Chivas and Galaxy fans be sleeping out in tents to get tickets for the two or three times they play each other each season? Probably not. But I guarantee the two teams will play to sellout crowds during their matches in '05.
The question is this: Which team will truly call The Home Depot Center home? Will it be the side that does better in the league? Or will it be the one who packs in more fans each weekend?
The New York Giants are identified with Giants Stadium. Not the Jets. And the passion level is a little different week-to-week whether you're at a Giants game or a Jets game. Giants fans have more bite, more loyalty (let's just say it's hard to find a Jets fan in New York City when they aren't winning games), and a greater football tradition. In this case, Chivas will be the Giants.
Despite coming in as an expansion club, the Chivas franchise is known all over the world. One can't say that about the Galaxy. While the Galaxy has been going strong for nine years, the start of Chivas -- or Club Deportivo Guadalajara, to be official -- goes back almost 100 years to 1908. They've had time to build a fan base and a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation. Grown men in the United States cannot wax poetically about the first time their father took them to see an MLS match. Chivas fans with grandchildren and great-grandchildren can do that, though.
If Vergara does what he says and brings in several players from Central and South America, as well as Spanish-speaking Americans to add to current Chivas players Francisco Palencia and Ramirez, the current fan base of Chivas will buy into it. Even if several diehards look at the L.A. version of Chivas as the Mexican club's minor league team or as the reserve side, what matters is that they care. What matters is that they follow the team, as well as, hopefully, the league as a whole. And that they come to the stadium in droves, especially when playing the Galaxy so the match feels more like a derby and less like a Wednesday night Lakers-Clippers affair where the fans show up late and leave early.
AEG President Tim Leiweke believes it'll be just that, saying, "This will probably be the best rivalry in all of sports in Southern California."
Will it top UCLA-Southern Cal? No way. Probably not for decades.
But maybe someday.
Marc Connolly writes for ESPN.com and several other publications. This column runs each Wednesday on MLSnet.com and Marc can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.