Last weekend when the Los Angeles Galaxy took on the San Jose Earthquakes in the regular season finale at The Home Depot Center, both teams had their playoff destinies in their own hands. Going into that game, the Quakes knew that a win pitted them against the Galaxy in the Western Conference Semifinal Series. San Jose came out and won that game 3-1, sending a message to Los Angeles.
The message was heard loud and clear by the Galaxy. In Los Angeles, players feel more offended than downtrodden by last weekend's result.
"They chose their own destiny," said Herculez Gomez after last week's loss. "They play us. They wanted to play us and they got us. Bring it."
The result was more of a slap in the face than anything to the Galaxy players. In their eyes, the Earthquakes knew what they would be getting into with a win, and were perfectly content to do so. Now the Galaxy are out to prove that the Quakes didn't want a first-round matchup with the Green and Gold.
"The fact that they came in here and took it to us 3-1 in a game that a victory determined that they would play us in the playoffs, it speaks a lot about their character," said veteran 'keeper Kevin Hartman. "It shows us that San Jose is a team that is confident -- they aren't afraid of anybody."
It's the second time in three seasons the arch-rivals are meeting in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs, and will showcase one of the fiercest rivalries in the league two weekends in a row, in games that will be full of emotion, energy and tension.
"I haven't been here more than a year and a half and I can already sense the heated rivalry between the two clubs," said Steve Sampson, this season in his first full year at the helm of the Galaxy. "I think that's great for soccer here in the United States."
Adding to the intrigue of the match was an offseason trade between the clubs that saw current San Jose regulars Danny Califf and Alejandro Moreno head north from the Galaxy. And while he wasn't involved in that deal, Landon Donovan of course was with the Earthquakes last season.
In addition, neither team will be at full strength. Moreno will be out after sustaining an injury last weekend, and reserve defender Kevin Goldthwaite will serve out his one-game suspension after getting a red card against the Galaxy.
Los Angeles will be without the services of Tyrone Marshall, the anchor in the center of the Galaxy back four, also through suspension. Marshall was named the Galaxy's defender of the year this past week.
Donovan has seen the rivalry from both sides, and he knows there will be little mystery as to what each team brings to the table come kickoff.
"Last Saturday was a preview of what we're going to see this weekend. It was nice to get a taste for that," he said. "We are the team that now needs to show that we can compete with (San Jose). This is the time of year when special things happen and I think you're going to see a pretty good series in the next couple of weeks."
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.